Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War – 08 – Zero Hour

In the aftermath of the Quincy invasion and subsequent withdrawal, triage operations underway. Lieutenant Kotetsu tearfully asks Captain Unohana if it was really the right call to remain in the Squad 4 barracks for the entirety of the battle. Unohana reminds Kotetsu not to let emotion rule her decision-making.

They made the right choice because it was Head Captain’s final order, and now they’re still alive to take care of the wounded. Ichigo is there, and while he’s received first aid he still needs a lot of work. Less, though, than his pals Rukia and Renji, who are in stable condition. Rukia can tell something’s troubling Ichigo beyond the destruction of his zanpakuto and failure to protect everyone.

At the captain’s meeting, the younger, more hot-headed Captains like Soi Fon and Muguruma get into it and have to be calmed by Iba and Shunsui, who reminds them that if Old Man Yama were there he’d smack them all for whining about this defeat. They do receive some good news: both Byakuya and Kenpachi are still alive. The bad news? They may never wake up.

Captain Kurotsuchi invites Ichigo to his lab to give him the good and bad news: restoring his shikai is possible, but his bankai is gone forever. He then takes Ichigo to where the other captains have gathered near Seireitei’s protective wall…to await the arrival of the Royal Guard, AKA Squad Zero, which consists of five captains, each one stronger than the combined Gotei 13.

Here I was, wondering who the hell was going to fight the Quincy when they’ve taken out Yamamoto and neutralized Ichigo. It’s these guys. And while the Gotei 13 captains find them irritating, the fact is they infuse both optimism and comedy to the proceedings.

As one would expect, the character designs of the five Squad Zero captains are extremely extra, including a dude with a huge, sharp pompadour that’s almost a character in and of itself, a due with a white puffer jacket instead of the standard captain’s obi, and a lady with six golden legs she uses for everything from playing the squad’s arrival fanfare to holding four spheres that contain Ichigo’s broken zanpakuto, Rukia, Renji, and Byakuya.

Squad Zero has come down from the Royal Palace realm to rebuild the ravaged Gotei 13, but first they’re bringing the injured Kuchikis, Renji, and Ichigo back home with them, where they’ll be able to heal properly. After receiving a video call from Kisuke, Inoue and Chad reassuring him they’re all right (and have apparently made a deal with Grimmjow) Ichigo agrees to go with Squad Zero.

They all pile up in the giant pillar-shaped conveyance they used to travel to Seireitei, and with help from Shiba Kuukaku (joined by Ganju and making a reference to her uncle, Ichigo’s dad) it launches back to the realm of the Royal Palace, which is very cool and austere looking. The main palace is surrounded by five city-sized plates where the five Squad Zero captains’ castles are located.

Ichigo and his injured comrades are sent to Kirinden, the castle of Captain Kirinji Tenjirou, who is apparently the healer of the bunch, and someone whose healing powers far surpass Captain Unohana, who was a past student/apprentice of his.

That said, his methods are pretty simplistic on the surface, consisting of soaking the injured in a white-colored hot spring, then tossing them into a red-colored hot spring, then repeating the process. In Ichigo’s case, only one night in the spring will be enough to restore him, while Byakuya will need more intensive treatment.

Once Squad Zero arrived I started to feel a lot better about Ichigo and the good guys’ chances against the Wandenreich. They’re certainly an eccentric bunch, but I’m sure glad Bleach’s cheeky levity is back, anyone who fixes up Rukia is fine by me. They’re also able to re-forge Ichigo’s sword, so even if he can’t restore his old bankai, perhaps he’ll be able gain a new one, or perhaps even something beyond a bankai.

And, oh yeah, the Soul King is awake … so there’s that.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bocchi the Rock! – 01 (First Impressions) – Guitar Heroine

I never did replace Renai Flops after dropping it, and I’ve heard and read good things about Bocchi the Rock!, so I thought better to check it out late than never! Reviews to come as I find time to watch back episodes.—Zane

First-year middle schooler Gotou Hitori describes herself as an “archetypal introvert”, but when she learns from TV that even introverts can become cool and popular if they join bands, she borrows her dad’s guitar and starts practicing, with the plan to create a band and perform at the cultural festival.

Those plans would prove … optimistic. Three years pass, and while she never puts the guitar down, gets quite good at it, and posts covers on YouTube and gets good feedback, she never made a band, never performed, and never even made a friend. She aims to change all that in her first year of high school.

But despite psyching herself up and decking herself out in Rocker Chick garb and accessories, no one approaches Hitori in the first month of the school year. Granted, she’s just passively waiting for people to approach her. She has social anxiety, stammers, and has trouble making eye contact.

But even if Hitori can’t communicate externally, her colorful, dynamic inner voice is a genuine delight. Props to Aoyama Yoshino for nailing both sides of Hitori, which make her an instantly likeable protagonist you want to see succeed.

Sure enough, when hanging out on a swing a girl with red boots and a blonde sidetail approaches her while yelling “Guitar!” Ijichi Nijika is her name, and a guitarist is what she needs for a show … today.

After a quick train to the stylish Shimo-Kitagawa district, Nijika leads Hitori to the basement club called Starry. Immediately Hitori is encouraged by the darkness and stuffiness, reminding her of the closet where she spent most of the last three years. She also meets Yamada Ryou, a cool beauty and bassist.

A quick scan of the sheet music for the set reveals nothing Hitori can’t handle musically, but after her first-ever practice with other human beings, they’re unable to hold back the hard honest truth: she sucks. Or, rather, she sucks staying in synch in a band. But that’s what you’d you expect … she’s never been in one!

After curling up into the fetal position, the “sub-water flea” Hitori jumps into a garbage can, and even considers committing guitar hara-kiri on stage. But Nijika and Ryou insist she’s being too hard on herself, and everything will be fine. When she mentions she uploads covers, she learns that not only to both girls know about her (through her YT handle “guitarhero”), but think she’s awesome.

While this revitalizes her, Hitori still has legitimate concerns about being able to stand on a stage and play (this is someone who only recently became capable of speaking to Nijika) so her bandmates produce a big mango box she can play inside. They immediately notice the change in her personality once she feels safe and secure.

Nijika and Ryou tell Hitori that their band is called Kessoku Band (as in zip-tie band), and then give her an appropriate nickname: “Bocchi”, as in hitoribocchi (“all alone”).

With that, it is time to rock, and while we don’t get to hear most of the set, all we need to know is that it wasn’t that great, at least by the standards the band is trying to meet. That’s not just on Hitori, mind you: Nijika and Ryou know they have flaws too. They’re grateful Bocchi was able to play with them, and look forward to playing with her again.

Nijika wants to take Bocchi out to celebrate her first ever set in her first ever band, but all this social interaction has exhausted Hitori to the point she simply has to head home for the night, so she takes a rain check (Ryou also falls asleep on her feet).

Honestly, I would have been disappointed if Bocchi and Kessoku Band kicked ass right out of the gate. Rather, it will be fun to watch Bocchi grow more comfortable talking to her new bandmates, meeting the fourth member who appears in both OP and ED, and watching the band learn from and get better together. It’s a very solid, fun start to a show I wish I’d picked up eight weeks ago!

To Your Eternity – S2 06 – The Church of Heavy Metal

When Parona!Fushi mentions how they’ve been reading up on the concept of marriage and the “fluffy feeling” she gets from Kahaku and others, he embraces them, and that’s when Fushi becomes nauseous. As it happens, even if Fushi were open to becoming Kahaku’s wife, that’s not something Parona would tolerate. The very touch of Kahaku repels Parona, who was murdered by Hayase. Bon orders Kahaku to stay away from Fushi for the time being.

The campaign to gain Fushi followers continues in the next city, but this time many of the townsfolk have heard rumors that Fushi can now resurrect the dead. While true in the case of Anna, this comes as a surprise to Fushi, since Bon never told them. Fushi is shunted off into an alley, where a Bennett priest warns them that Bon is to be arrested and executed for heresy, but if Fushi surrenders willingly, their friends will be spared.

Fushi agrees, but neither Kahaku nor Todo buy what the Church is selling. Bon, when approached by Bishop Cylira, he grudgingly agrees to give Fushi up in exchange for a recommendation from the Church that Bon ascend to the throne of Uralis. It’s not what he wants, but it’s what’s best for his kingdom, and also what he’s been working for his whole life.

Todo whips up the crowd, and a town guard captain seemingly has Team Fushi’s back when he insists the church prove Fushi is a demon and not a servant of God. Cylira does so by giving Fushi a test: if they can’t revive a recently-deceased bishop, the church will have its proof.

Fushi, who at this point is still convinced they can’t revive anyone, copies the bishop’s corpse but is unable to revive him. They’re seized, and when Bon, Todo, and Kahaku try to intervene, Todo is stabbed by a sword and Bon is knocked out.

Bon comes to in an open-air cell suspended above a canyon, stripped of his gramps’ heirloom armor. Fushi is arguably worse off, as they’ve been sealed in a solid iron box. Fushi transforms into Gugu and breathes fire on the circular hatch, but can’t quite get it hot enough to melt the iron. After several attempts, Fushi starts to feel winded and nauseous.

The Beholder tells him he’s missing something they need (I’m guessing fresh air), and no matter who he transforms into, the bad feeling doesn’t subside. Then the hatch opens and molten metal starts to pour on them. The Beholder starts counting to see how long Fushi can last in a constant state of immolation and regeneration.

Of Team Fushi, only Kahaku and a handful of Guardians remain free. When they try to free Fushi from the cell in the dead of night, Pocoa emerges from her barrel and urges caution, and asks Kahaku to have faith in Bon and Fushi’s luck.

She might not be wrong, either! Todo, at least, survived the sword strike thanks to her embroidery stopping the blade before it could pierce her. Bon and Todo realize they’re in adjacent cells; perhaps they can work together. And even after over 100,000 seconds (over 27 hours), Fushi the immortal’s body still has form. All we can do is wait and see if that’s enough.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 08 – Lost in the forest of decision

This week was difficult at times, but also necessary in a satisfying way. We start with Shiori, Mei, Jirou, and Akari all alone, wondering how long things will stay “this way”, in a state of confusion, frustration, and longing. Not forever, surely!

Even Jirou’s video game is asking him to make a choice between two princesses, warning him the wrong one would “destroy the kingdom”. That’s not far off! Suffice it to say, the current state of things is becoming untenable for everyone.

When the new monthly rankings come out, Jirou and Akari only make it to thirteenth place, which means they still lack the mechanism to enact a decision regarding whom they wish to truly be with. Even so, the marriage practical is a false obstacle. They really don’t need to make it to the Top 10 to sort this out!

In the meantime, Jirou and Akari’s marriage continues apace. Akari’s arachnophobia supplants any modesty about running in on Jirou when he’s nakked in the bath, and in her state of fear and vulnerability she’s never squeezed him tighter. Since the 2mm spider has disappeared, Akari insists on Jirou staying by her side all day, even as she does her nails.

Jirou can shrug off all this sudden intimacy with Akari as a product of her fear of spiders and need for someone by her side to protect her, not necessarily a romantic partner. Since they’re still playing the marriage game to make the Top 10 and swap for their crushes, he remains convinced Akari isn’t interested in him in any other way.

Of course, she is, and she wouldn’t bring up “what ifs” like asking what would’ve happened if they’d met outside the bounds of the compulsory marriage practical. Nor would she ask if they should try dating, like the fifth-ranked couple apparently has started to do. She only says “just kidding” because the silence grows too long, while Jirou wonders why he thought seriously about it for a second. Dude, because she was serious.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last time Akari says something straight-up only to amend it or dismiss it as messing around. The beautifully staged and lit overhead shot of the two alone in their bed that night says still more than her overt words. That thick, dark wall is doing a lot of work, visually and thematically.

Over at Casa de Sakurazawa-Tenjin, Minami can tell something’s troubling Shiori and offers to help, even if he’s not confident he’ll be able to. Shiori confides in him her “friend’s” situation, in which she’s kissed the person they like and now can’t think of anything else. Minami picks up pretty easily that Shiori is talking about herself, but steadfastly doesn’t break the charade.

We finally learn something interesting about Minami in that he apparently missed his chance to confess to the person he loved, and urges Shiori’s “friend” to have confidence and keep trying if there’s a possibility it will work out. We knew that he and Shiori had nothing going on romantically, but this proves it. Also, pretty rich telling her to be confident when he apparently has so little of his own!

As for the true third vertex in the Shiori-Jirou love triangle, Hamano Mei and Shiori have a deeply romantic little scene in the classroom after school, even if Shiori isn’t at all aware of  how her compliments truly affect Mei. Even Mei’s husband Shuu is aware of how much she loves Shiori, and arranges to go out with Minami on a karaoke all-nighter so the two girls can have a sleepover.

Shuu learns another nugget about Minami when he hangs out with him and their café boss that night: Minami has an older brother, and their boss says since it’s a family of “ikemen” even siblings are rivals. Sounds like his bro might’ve stolen his true love? As for the boss, he’s Sadaharu’s older brother.

When Shiori and Mei are planning sleeping arrangements, talk turns to looking at old photos. Mei looks forward to seeing lil’ Shiori … right up until Shiori bashfully says most of the photos contain Jirou as well. Mei checks her phone and heads off on a family errand, abandoning the sleepover plan because she knows who Shiori really loves.

Sadaharu ends up at a restaurant with Jirou, and despite not drinking like his big bro, comes up with the hair-brained idea that he needs to bring his new accidentally lecherous friend back down to his level … by kissing him. While he’s leaning in for that smooch, Shiori, now alone, just happens to pass by, and seemingly gets a look at them, and walks off with no reaction.

Jirou chases after her to explain things, but as she didn’t actually see him and Sadaharu, she assumes he’s talking about their accidental kiss. She was looking at the restaurant sign that contained the symbol for “kiss”. When they thankfully clear up this misunderstanding, they each take one of the handles of the bag and walk together.

When conversation turns back to their kiss, Shiori insists that Jirou hear her out. He doesn’t have to apologize for the kiss, because she asked him to kiss her for practice, and she admits she learned a lot, so she earnestly thanks him. Jirou is confused, since he still thinks she wants to be “friends (and only friends) forever”, but he can’t deny that she sets up another potential kiss for them right then and there.

Sadly, when two cats interrupt their moment Shiori quickly shifts to small talk, but hey, at least these two are talking again, and Jirou understands that Shiori doesn’t feel bad about their kiss.

Jirou’s video game princess warned that the kingdom will be destroyed if he makes the wrong choice. The “kingdom” in this case could be his friendship with Shiori, whether they take it to the next level or if he chooses Akari. The same scenarios apply to Mei: confessing to Shiori means possibly abandoning regular friendship in the future.

In either case, the old has to be torn down before something new can be built in its place. The fear and hesitance of doing so is all too understandable and relatable—as is the result of not making choices: the aforementioned increasingly untenable purgatory. Something’s gotta give, and hopefully something will!

I’ve watched many a frustrating-as-hell rom-rom in which characters didn’t make what I felt to be the obvious, easy choice. This show is doing a great job really putting us in each character’s shoes and explaining why they’re having so much difficulty, and making clear that there are no easy choices.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 08 – A Better Future Than Our Fathers

Miorine has taken the plunge into entrepreneurship, but finding herself without any kind of labor, she conscripts Earth House to help get GUND-Arm, Inc. on its feet. This starts a stir of dialogue among the Earth House members, who for the first time this week feel more like a motley group of individuals than a monolithic unit.

Miorine also needs to get a better read on just what the heck she just acquired, and that means a meeting with Lady Prospera. When Suletta sheepishly asks her mother why she lied to her about Aerial not being a Gundam, Prospera removes her arm and basically says it’s all about perspective.

GUND-Arm tech has been widely reviled as “accursed” tech—not entirely without merit due to the effects of Permet on humans—while those who dabble in the tech have been regarded as “witches.” Suletta buys this explanation hook line and sinker, but Mine knows a parent appeasing her kid when she sees it.

She wants to dig deeper into what Gundams are all about, beyond both the pro-and-anti propaganda. So, apparently, does Shaddiq, who minces no words (and spares Suletta no feelings) in proposing that not only should Miorine let him run GUND-Arm, but also take his hand in marriage.

Suletta thinks Shaddiq is in love with Mine, but Mine knows better: Shaddiq is after something, and due to his background as an orphan run by the Grassley family, she knows he’ll do whatever it takes to get it.

Disparate backgrounds are front and center in the first official meeting of the staff of GUND-Arm, Inc. Once everyone sees the dire financial straits the company is in before even officially incorporating, the group starts to splinter into  positions based on their background and circumstances.

Earth House has war orphans and rich kids with high ideals. Developing weapons seems like the most profitable direction for GUND-Arm, but that would create more war orphans. I appreciate how everyone, from Chuchu and Nika to the other Earthians, each have a unique perspective to offer. This leads to conflict, but Miorine calms the seas by agreeing not to commit to making weapons, then delegates the various incorporation tasks to be completed in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, Guel is still camping in the woods (and sadly has yet to run into Space Honda Tooru) and being bullied by his former toadies when Shaddiq arrives and scares them off with his mere words and presence. He tells Guel he’s fond of him and wants them to join forces. Guel refuses, since he’s done being beholden to anyone, but again, this is Shaddiq, and he wants something.

Shaddiq also has a plan, a plan he thought he could leave to Guel, but Guel failed. That plan centers around possessing Aerial, but unlike Guel and Ceres does not intend to take it via a duel. Instead, he’ll rely on his gift of gab as long as he can.

Mine’s fact-finding mission takes her to Bel and Piel Technologies, where she learns more about Vanadis and the “true ideals” behind GUND tech. It leaves her with a lot to think about in her rose garden module. There, Shaddiq meets her and makes another attempt to convince her to give him GUND-Arm.

The two have known each other a while, as evidence by a school project they once worked on together. Shaddiq tells her that people will buy Gundams regardless of the regulations against them. Mine reminds Shaddiq that his dad is “allergic” to Gundams and wants them “erased from the world” but Shaddiq doesn’t feel that way. In private and to Mine, he believes both their dads’ visions to be too narrow, and the two of them can create a better future.

Back at Earth House the incorporation paperwork is proofread and the PR video is choppily edited, but Mine hasn’t been seen nor heard from in days, and Chuchu even posits that she might have flown the coop for Earth. But Miorine disappoints her by returning, and not empty handed.

She plays the Vanadis Institute’s presentation that lays out the true ideals of the GUND format—not weapons of war, but medical technology that will enable people to live better lives, while expanding the human biosphere. A technology of hope, not destruction and despair.

This is the direction Miorine has chosen for GUND-Arm, and nobody at Earth House has any objections. Despite being the rich Spacian princess, she’s appealed to her team and won them over with a convincing and attractive business model they can all feel better about.

GUND-Arm gets a slick new logo, and a not-so-slick but also adorably disarming PR video featuring synchronized movement between Aerial and Suletta. It does exactly what Mine said was needed in a PR video: to show that Gundams are not to be feared.

But all fun aside, Chuchu is legitimately moved by the direction GUND-Arm is taking, since as a miner’s daughter she knows all about the myriad injuries that make day-to-day life harder for her people. She’s grateful to be able to help them while also making money. The Earthians who had been bickering make up. Now they’re all united in purpose.

The episode allows a few moments of peace and romance as Suletta and Mine share a hoverbike back to Earth House, carrying the celebratory takeout dinner. Mine gets to rest her head in Suletta’s back for only a moment before she gets a text notification that threatens to kill GUND-Arm in its infancy.

That potential killing blow comes in the form of new safety verification regulations being drafted into the school rules regarding student startups. It’s the classic “the club’s going to be shut down!” scenario, only instead of lack of members, it’s an abundance of negative PR over what they’re doing, along with a distinct gap in political muscle.

Of course Shaddiq is behind this, and his assembled group of scheming ladies—also with wildly different personalities—each have something to say on the matter, from celebrating to lamenting the downfall of a rival. The way is paved for a hostile takeover, after Shaddiq’s two more cordial proposals were rejected. Now he vows to take over her company and seize Gundam from Miorine’s hands.

Shaddiq had been on the fence for much of this season, but revealing his true colors comes as no surprise, because the show did the work needed to lay out everyone’s background and motivations, just as it dug into how even the members of Earth House have their differences. Will Miorine, Suletta, and their plucky startup manage to weather the storm?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 21 – Not My Mama

WISE agent Fiona Frost, AKA Nightfall (voiced by Sakura Ayane in her lower meter) could just as easily be named Snowfall, seeing as she’s outwardly as chilly as Yor is warm. When Handler tells her she’ll be working on a joint mission with Twilight, Fiona jumps at the chance.

She considers it an opportunity to speed up and improve Operation Strix by getting rid of his fake wife, a position she would have occupied had she not been busy on another mission when Strix began. Fiona is met at the door by guileless Yor, who apparently doesn’t feel any killing intent in Loid’s co-worker from the hospital, even as Fiona’s resting face is a piecing dagger stare

When she realizes that Yor considers being Anya’s mom to be fun, she changes her tack, ready to exploit Yor’s feelings of being a subpar wife, but Loid and Anya return home from walking Bond. No matter how good Fiona’s poker face is, Anya can read her mind, and she’s petrified to learn the extent of Fiona’s infatuation with her Papa. It’s way worse than Becky!

The contrast between the lovey-dovey Inner and frigid Outer Fionas makes for good laughs, as does the secret conversation-via-mouth-movements that she and Loid make while sounding like they’re exchanging mindless small talk. As Loid, Yor, and Anya interact, Fiona is constantly demanding that she and Yor switch in her head, and Anya can hear her.

Turns out Yor was paying attention to Fiona talking about Loid complaining at work, and even though Fiona didn’t get to actually specify anything, the mere mention of him complaining has Yor acrobatically leaping to the conclusion that Fiona is a potential replacement wife, no mind-reading necessary.

It’s when Anya semi-accidentally spills cocoa, and she hears Inner Fiona talking about how ruthlessly she’d whip Anya into an efficiently Stella-winning machine, that Anya runs tearfully to Yor’s side, asserting that she is the one, only, and best Mama she could have. This in turn spurs Yor to promising to Loid that she’ll do better, even though from his perspective she’s already been doing fine.

When she sees Loid’s fake smile, Fiona is heartened, as it means that at the end of the day this is all an act. And yet, at the same time, she can see some of the truth leaking through that fake smile, and the genuine peace and happiness Loid is experiencing with Yor and Anya is just too much, and Fiona takes her leave.

Loid chases her down with an umbrella, which she declines, while thanking the heavy rain for hiding her face full of heartbreak and anguish. Inside, she maintains that she’s the only wife worthy of her beloved senpai, while outside she negs Loid, telling him the new “softer” Twilight better not impede their joint mission.

Fiona is a stylish and welcome addition to the cast; someone who is actively trying to steal Loid while having no idea how to do so, someone with contrasting inner-outer personalities off which Anya can bounce, and a hint of genuine pathos for someone whose fated role by Loid’s side was usurped due to bad timing.

The final fifth of the episode is a little vignette in which Bond is suddenly jealous of her stuffed Mr. Penguin, and assaults it in the night. Loid eventually mends the doll (after Yor utterly failed) and notes that his “scars” are badges of honor for a veteran penguin spy.

A contrite bond offers peace peanuts to Anya, who forgives him, apologizes for saying she hated him, and enacts a peace treaty between him and Mr. Penguin. It’s slight and sweet—almost to the point of cloying—but does make for a nice parallel for the East-West conflict (would that it could be solved so easily) and reminds us that even precognitive flooffers can get jealous.

Urusei Yatsura – 07 – Pochi’s Odyssey

This week’s UY further expands its world, though not with more foxy alien chicks. Combining a pool episode with a beach episode, it introduces a lonely little demon living underwater who suddenly has a visitor. He happens to live at the bottom of the pool where Ataru, Lum, Shinobu and Mendou pay a visit. Since Lum’s default outfit is a bikini, it makes sense she’d pick a one-piece, while Shinobu opts for a bolder two-piece.

Even so, Mendou ignores her in favor of Lum’s new look, while both he and Ataru are distracted by Sakura in an even sultrier one-piece. When Ataru lunges at her, she rightfully pops him, and he ends up sinking to the pool’s bottom where the little demon guy lives. While Shinobu asks about Sakura’s fancy parfait, Lum is legit concerned about Ataru, who tags out when she arrives so he can surface for air.

After eating roughly a hundred parfaits, Sakura joins Mendou and Cherry in following Ataru, who swears there’s a freaky demon thing underwater. But when they reach his “home”, he’s surfaced to procure (read: steal) more snacks for his guests. Lum tags everyone to surface.

Eventually, everyone is back above water, studying the weird little guy. After all the commotion he caused making customers flee (his dad owns the pool) Mendou demands that the guy vacate the premises immediately. The others, feeling this was a bit harsh, wish the guy well as he departs, only for Ataru to find him having relocated to his family’s bathtub.

The conundrum of What To Do About The Weird Little Blue Guy continues in the second segment, and that question is answered immediately by Ataru’s mom, who asks him and Lum to take the guy to the beach and leave him there, since he’s been in their tub for a month.

Like the pool, Shinobu’s in a bikini and Lum’s in a one piece, but they’re different prints from the previous swimsuits they wore, which is a nice touch. Sakura also shows off her ability to eat massive quantities of food, but this time she’s with her fiancé Tsubame.

When Ataru tries to take the pool demon somewhere secluded, that happens to be the same spot where Sakura and Tsubame end up to be alone together. This results in Ataru, the pool demon, Mendou, Shinobu, and Lum all watching intently as the couple draw closer into a kiss that’s sadly broken up by the pool demon walking up to point-blank range to stare at them.

He apologizes to Ataru, Lum, Shinobu, and Mendou by throwing a goodbye picnic, offering food he’d procured/stolen from around the beach. Everyone eats, but they can’t be merry with the guy constantly bringing up the fact that they’re leaving him there all alone.

Throughout the background of this segment, there’s a very sweet and wholesome little vignette of a gentle little boy taking his beloved pet Pochi to the beach because he can’t keep it anymore. When all his most treasured moments with Pochi (who is never shown) flash before the boy’s eyes, he suddenly can’t go through with it anymore.

The boy races back to the beach, sees Ataru with a cardboard box, and snatches it up, thinking it’s the cardboard box containing Pochi that he left of the beach when it’s actually a second box into which Ataru put the pool demon.

Shinobu discovers the boy’s box, and opens it to reveal that “Pochi” is just Cherry. The kid had been spending all this time with (and feeding) Sakura’s uncle like he was a pet. That’s a great-ass punchline right there. No sooner do Ataru and Lum return home than they receive a postcard from the pool demon—who now goes by Pochi—saying he’s found a great new home and life with the kind boy. All’s well that ends well!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akiba Maid War – 08 – Maid-jor League

Akiba Maid War’s opening stingers can be misleading, but this week’s made it abundantly clear it would be a baseball episode. I’ll go on record here: I love baseball, but I’m not really into anime that are predominantly about baseball. The occasional standalone baseball-themed episode of AMW? Oh hell yeah. Sign me up and play ball!

Honestly any old conceit would do, but the leader of Creatureland (and the recently absorbed Maidalien) visits Manami’s funeral, picks up her red bat, and decrees that Oinky Doink will play a game of baseball against the former Maidaliens (now Axolotls) to bury the hatchet. No one on either side is as enthusiastic about this as Nagomi.

But while she’s excited to honor Nerula’s memory with a nice clean game, everyone else either doesn’t want to be there or have no intention of playing a nice or clean game. The first casualty is Manami’s bat, which proves too old and worn out to withstand even one Zoya fastball. The next blow is struck by the Axolotls, who plunk Yumechi hard on the bum.

Despite being the most obnoxious taskmaster and cheerleader, Nagomi proves rubbish at the plate, while everyone else is decently talented, save the three random Venezuelan tourists manning the outfield—who ironically are terrible at baseball. When Oinky Doink builds a good lead, an Axolotl batter smacks Nagomi on the head.

Nagomi turns the other cheek even as Shiipon trips her assailant, and from there on things start to unravel. Tagging out runners with brutal punches, hard slides and trips, and ample trash talk are the order of the day, and the Axolotls soon take over the lead.

When Nagomi protests the game’s descent into violence, even her own teammates tell her she’s the only one playing baseball here. Everyone else is acting like maids—Akiba maids—and treating this not as a simple pasttime, but a battle in a war—an Akiba Maid War!

Despite this, Nagomi doesn’t stoop to everyone else’s level. Even if no one else will, she’ll honor Nerula by playing fair, even taking first without protest after getting plunked in the face. One by one the top Axolotl players see Nagomi, develop a measure of shame and admiration, and decide to start playing fair themselves.

By this time, Oinky Doinks have retaken a slim lead, but Zoya’s nail is split and she can only continue pitching if she rips the nail off—something she’s all too ready and willing to do! This is when Ranko, who has baseball experience from being in the joint, takes over. We also learn that she’s a southpaw, like me, which only endears her to me more.

At this point, an increasingly frustrated Uzaki steps in to pinch hit for one of her fair-playing colleagues, and after taking one pitch she charges the mound to take a swing at Ranko. Zoya takes her out and threatens her, incurring the rage of the other Axolotls.

It looks like Nagomi’s dream of a clean fair game will be dashed after all … and then Uzaki is stabbed in the back by the Axolotl mascot that had been sitting in the stands until then. The Axolotl removes its head to reveal it’s Miyabi, Manami’s disgruntled right-hand-maid.

One of the other Axolotls stabs Miyabi, and suddenly there are two corpses on the field. Rather than end the game without an official result, the other Axolotls, seeing that their only obstacle to playing a fair match have been removed, insist on completing the game, pretending Miyabi and Uzaki aren’t dead and carrying them back to the dugout.

While the two dead maids start to decompose, the Axolotls attempt a last-ditch rally and come of just short. That said, they admit it was a good-ass game. An elated Nagomi hopes her dearly departed sister is smiling down on the victory they won in her name.

After singing an Oinky Doink-themed alma mater, the two teams depart without any further violence. As Ranko washes the blood from her battered left arm, she’s approached by a maid she knew as Uzuko in the past, who now goes by Nagi and has risen to the very top echelon of the Akiba underworld.

Nagi notes that Ranko didn’t kill Manami, just as she didn’t act with lethal force to save their old senior maid back in the day. She warns Ranko that her reluctance to kill when required could spell the end of her one day. Nagi knows what Ranko can do with her hands, she just has to do it. But just like Nagomi wouldn’t resort to violence, perhaps there are boundaries past which Ranko simply won’t go out of personal honor and principle.

Ominous ending aside, as someone who is never not extremely there for any and all standalone baseball episodes, this was a triumph. Not only was it a sweet spiritual sendoff for Nerula and a way of Nagomi finding closure, it was packed with excellent sports animation, postcard memories, adorable uniforms, and tons of great little details. Like the Oinky Doink crew, AMW has proven it can pull off anything it puts its mind to.

The Eminence in Shadow – 08 – A Terribly Flawed Scenario

This week starts off by replaying the start of the invasion of the academy by Fake Shadow Garden (Shamdow Garden?) this time from Cid’s perspective, and man is he excited to be involved in a terrorist attack! The moment he realizes Rose is in serious trouble, he launches himself into the path of the baddie’s blade, as that’s the role of the background character. In doing so, he (posthumously) wins the heart of Rose, who remembers how hard he fought against her in the tournament and now sees his selfless sacrifice as proof that he loved her.

Rose and all the other students are rounded up in the auditorium, but Cid is left behind, as he’s just a corpse. Or IS he? After punching himself several times in the chest, Cid starts his heart back up, having successfully pulled off the risky “Ten-Minute Death—Heartbreak.” Considering what Cid did to himself to reach this other world, it’s no surprise he’d put his life on the line to best inhabit the role of Eminence in Shadow. Meanwhile, Sherry is researching away when one of the bad guys’ top lieutenants drops in.

She’s saved by one of the school’s elite swordsman who is still able to fight despite the lack of magic, but he falls to the bad guy’s blade soon enough. He only manages to buy a bit of time for Sherry to shuffle away in her flip-flops. After sniping several dozen of the enemy and plummeting dramatically off the school roof, Cid senses Sherry is being pursued and not doing a great job of being stealthy, so he serves as her protective shadow, killing anyone who gets close to her.

Sherry’s refrain of “it’s just my imagination” is one of many comedic highlights, and when she finally trips and nearly falls down the stairs, Cid is there to catch both her and the artifact and recommend she stop thinking out loud, stop trying to decipher the artifact while moving, and ditches slippers. He escorts her to her father’s office, where she finds unpublished research of the artifact she’s been charged with, which is the control unit for the Eye of Avarice that’s created the anti-magic field.

But the Eye isn’t just neutralizing magic, it’s absorbing it. Given enough magic, it will eventually reach its full capacity and release in one huge explosion that will level the school. So it’s a magical bomb threat. Sherry is game to fine-tune her artifact so they can shut the Eye down, but to do that Cid has to head back to where Sherry was to fetch the tuning instruments. After righteously toying and fucking with the lieutenant guy, he encounters Nu, who finds her ex-betrothed dying in the room where Sherry was working.

Nu reports that the real Shadow Garden have arrived on the scene and are ready to go on Cid’s orders. The only downside to that is that Gamma, the clumsiest of the Seven Shadows, is in command. Cid then fills Nu in on what he and Sherry plan to do, and he describes the plan so nonchalantly it basically reinforces her belief that Cid is a mastermind of unsurpassed brilliance, when he’s actually just been wining it all along and doesn’t even believe any of this is real.

But of course, it is, and the lives of  the whole school are in his, Sherry’s, and Shadow Garden’s hands. Watching him cut through the bad guys and have tons of fun doing it was immensely entertaining; watching him and his allies save the day should prove the same or moreso.

Chainsaw Man – 07 – Loosening the Screws

When Kobeni accidentally stabbed Aki, Himeno started to lose it, because she felt like she was going to lose the latest in a long line of unfortunate partners. But while she despaired, Denji scoffed. He didn’t ask Aki to save him, and is done owing anybody anything, so he happily dives into the fell eldritch mass that is the Eternity Devil and pulls his ripcord.

It doesn’t take long for Denji to start losing some serious blood, but once he starts drinking the devil’s blood, he basically becomes a self-healing “perpetual motion machine”, boasting that he, not Power, will be the one to win that Nobel Prize.

In a flashback, Himeno visits her parents’ graves with her master; like Aki, she lost them to the Gun Devil, which is why she joined the force. But her master warns that a devil hunter cannot be too earnest straight-laced—devils know exactly how to fuck with and kill those kinds of people. All of Himeno’s previous partners died because they were too sane, and feared the devils, and devils love fear.

Her master “loosened the screws” by drinking heavily on occasion. Knowing that Aki is another upstanding lad, she tried to get him to quit the force and follow her into the safer private sector, but he refused. But as she watches Denji, Himeno sees what the ideal devil hunter is like: window-lickingly insane, unpredictable, and immune to the devil’s mind games.

When Denji’s motor cuts out, Himeno uses her ghost arm to pull his cord, and for three days he tears at the Eternity Devil until he finally reaches its core. By then, it is pleading for its life, but Denji slices it in two. Just like that, the hunters are off the eighth floor and out of the hotel.

No sooner do they leave the hotel than Denji passes out, but Himeno is there to carry him on her back to the hospital. Later, during a mission with Aki, Himeno proposes the whole squad go out for drinks to break the ice … to loosen the screws. Also, bury the hatchet vis-a-vis everyone trying to kill Denji.

Leave it to Chainsaw Man to make the izakaya where the 4th division meets up look like just the place I want to be on a Friday night. The beers are tall, cold, and frosty, and the snacks look delectable (so much so that Power systematically hoards them).

We meet a couple other division members, one of whom recently lost his rookie subordinate, just like that. A haunted look washes over Kobeni as she reckons with the fact that people in their line of work live short lives.

Denji brings up the kiss Himeno promised, but she tells him she needs to drink more first. Things get complicated for Denji when Makima arrives fashionably late wondering what all this talk of kissing is about.

When Aki asks Makima straight-up why she’s so interested in Denji, she says she’ll answer, but only if he can outdrink her. As expected, he can’t, as both he and Himeno fall to her indomitable tolerance. At this point, Himeno’s screws have been sufficiently loosened that she decides to bestow her promised kiss upon Denji’s lips.

It’s his first kiss, with tongue … and also with Himeno’s vomit. Turns out she loosened the screws a bit too much. Denji swallows some of it and gets ruinously drunk (it shocks everyone to learn he’s only 16). He and Arai have a bonding moment when he helps Denji boot—Arai having experience helping his alcoholic mom.

With the hour growing late and everyone sufficiently lubricated, the 4th division departs from the izakaya. Himeno manages to sneak of with Denji, and when he comes to, it’s on her bed, underneath her. She gives him another kiss—this time of beer, not barf—and proposes that they bone. Denji is growing up fast in the 4th Division.

The soft bluish-purple light, Himeno’s fluid movements, and her seiyu Ise Mariya’s gently seductive voice lend an almost sacred beauty to an otherwise profane scene. But it’s also a sad one, because Himeno is clearly compensating for her crippling grief and loneliness, not to mention her part-familial, part-romantic feelings for an Aki who only has eyes for Miss Makima.

Then again, maybe Himeno just figures she could die tomorrow—or later that night—such is the fate of all devil hunters. That being the case, one must take their fun when and where they can get it.

P.S. Every episode of Chainsaw Man has a unique ED and theme, and this one might’ve been my favorite, as it’s a 4:3 standard-def retro-gasm. Reminded me of one of the best OPs of all time, the retro Koimonogatari OP “Kogarashi Sentiment”.

Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War – 07 – Night of Fallen Souls

The last battle between the Gotei 13 and the Quincy looked a lot like the current one, only in reverse. Yamamoto’s thirteen captains back then were vicious, savage killers who made quick work of the Quincy … yet Yamamoto wasn’t able to take Yhwach’s life.

That day of slaughter is memorialized in a painting in Yamamoto’s dojo, as seen by a young Shunsui. Yamamoto warned Shunsui that if the subject of the painting ever returned to Soul Society it would be a dark day indeed. And so it is, with Yamamoto being sliced in half by the real Yhwach after expending all his energy fighting a fake one.

With the Head Captain defeated, Yhwach orders the Stern Ritter to summon their foot soldiers to complete the slaughter of shinigami. The soldiers meet little resistance, mowing down their opponents with east and leaving Soul Society dark, burning, and drenched in blood.

It would appear Yhwach and the Quincy have had their revenge, but after being unable to simply stand by and watch countless lights of souls in Soul Society wink out, Ichigo manages to power his way out of Quilge’s prison and completes his journey through the Garganta.

The first Quincy to encounter him falls quickly by his sword, but before engaging Yhwach, Ichigo pays a visit to Kuchiki Byakuya. Before the sixth captain dies, he takes solace in knowing Rukia and Renji are still alive, and asks Ichigo for a final favor: protect Soul Society—what’s left of it, that is.

Yhwach is surprised but not totally shocked to see Ichigo before him, having defeated Quilge’s prison. It only reinforces the fact that Kurosaki is one of the five special threats that stand in the way of total victory over Soul Society. Ichigo, meanwhile, is already bloodied and battered and not in the best shape to face off against the Quincy king.

That said, he still puts up a hell of a fight, even if Yhwach is likely holding back from killing him. Their ensuing battle is nothing like the flame-wreathed inferno of Yamamoto vs. Yhwach. Things get downright 2001 trippy with the colors and patterns created by the sheer force of their attacks upon one another. But in the end, Yhwach puts his blade in Ichigo’s throat.

Confident he’s disabled but not killed Ichigo, Yhwach prepares to take him back to their realm so that he can revive him and turn him to his side, But he encounters another surprise: Ichigo is still conscious, Yhwach’s stunning strike blocked by a Quincy technique: Blut Vene.

Yhwach surmises that Ichigo’s persistent contact with Quilge’s prison when he busted himself out caused the Quincy’s spiritual pressure to mix with Ichigo’s, enabling him to unconsciously use the Blut to save himself. Yhwach takes off the kid gloves and surrounds and restrains Ichigo with rocks.

But then, just like that, he gives the order to withdraw. It isn’t a retreat, merely a break in the invasion that will be resumed again soon. The Quincy have only a limited timespan in which they are able to function outside of their realm, and that time comes sooner than Yhwach expected due to a little illusory fuckery from his brief encounter with Aizen.

Speaking of fuckery, Yhwach gives Ichigo something to chew on while heals up and awaits his return: the fact that he’s … a Quincy? Or, at least, possesses Quincy blood. It’s why Yhwach hesitates to refer to himself as Ichigo’s “enemy”—as far as he’s concerned, Ichigo is family: a prodigal son to be brought back into the fold. But something tells me Ichigo won’t be going quietly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – S2 05 – Good Fortune is Fragile

En route to the village of Libu from the capital of Uralys, Parona!Fushi prepares explosive arrows for use on Nokkers, but also demands that the prince stop using poor Todo as a chair. When Bon says that’s what Todo was hired for (chair is an “elite position”), Fushi insists, spilling the beans that Todo’s in love with him.

That gets poor Todo demoted to the sock department. Fushi learns from Todo that sometimes it’s painful to love someone, as he doesn’t expect Bon to love him back, he just wants to be near him. We also learn that Princess Pocoa, starved for excitement, stowed away to join her brother.

In Libu, Bon demonstrates Fushi’s ability to replicate weapons, and when Fushi says he can’t replace a villager’s leg, Bon shows him the prosthesis he had made for one of his soldiers. Fushi’s able to replicate that and Bon’s team adjusts it to fit the villager.

When a Nokker finally attacks, Bon notices it almost as quickly as Fushi, due to the face Fushi makes. Thanks to Kahaku’s Nokker arm Bon doesn’t lose any soldiers, while Fushi goes underground and blows up the Nokker with a bunch of explosive arrows. You can tell Bon loves all of his men, and knows them all by name.

In one city, the lord’s daughter is deathly ill. When Boy!Fushi visits her, he can feel her death approaching and has to flee the room. Bon follows him out and finds he’s transformed into March to climb a tree. Later, they see the lord’s attendants carry the daughter’s body out of the manor.

Fushi goes back at Bon’s urging to show the lord that he can only make a lifeless shell of his daughter, not resurrect her. But what Fushi doesn’t witness is that later, that lifeless shell … comes back to life. Fushi can resurrect the dead (or at least the recently deceased), he just doesn’t know it.

Bon wonders why the Black One, who surely knows Fushi can do this, has kept it a secret all this time. He then tests whether it’s a good idea to tell Fushi himself, by asking what he’d do if those companions of his came back to life. When Fushi answers honestly: he’d go with them, not stay with Bon, Bon stays silent.

When a bored Pocoa demands they visit another city, Fushi asks Bon on her behalf, and to the city they go (with Pocoa arguably more conspicuous as she hops about in her barrel). Kahaku is hoping to spend some time with Parona!Fushi, but she ends up hanging out with Todo and the barrel instead.

When Fushi spots an adorable doll in a shop window, she asks the shopkeep if she can touch it, which enables her to create a copy. It’s love at first sight. Speaking of which, we meet Todo’s family, and learn that he’s actually a girl named Iris, who concealed her true gender so she could serve as Bon’s chair. The things we do for love.

Fushi is snug as a bug in her tent as she reads a novel Kahaku gave her with her new doll in her arms. When she tells Bon the doll is her lover, Bon explains that a lover should ideally be a human being. A lot of Fushi’s adoration of the doll seems to come from the fact she knows March would have loved it as well.

The episode ends with a proposal—from Kahaku to Parona!Fushi, asking if she’ll be his wife. Observing her during this expedition has apparently convinced him that Fushi is truly a female who is gradually discovering her femininity, but the reality is that Fushi can be whoever (or whatever) they want to anyone they encounter, at (and in) any time.

To assign a single form or gender to Fushi is to limit Fushi, but Fushi had been limiting himself for many years as the older version of the Boy. We’ll see how he feels about the first leader of the Guardians who didn’t immediately try to seduce or possess him suddenly wanting to marry him.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 07 – Okaeri, Akari

I just want to express my surprise and gratitude that Akari’s gyaru-friends Sachi and Natsumi are actually good people too! When they see Shiori with too many bags of garbage (a powerful metaphor for how accommodating and self-subordinating she is), they offer to help, even conscripting Jirou and Sadaharu when they slouch past.

When Shiori declines to carry a bag with Jirou, it’s a critical hit to his heart, but also shows their accidental kiss has left the two more awkward and distant than ever. Sachi and Natsumi can also tell that Akari must feel something for Jirou at this point, and she doesn’t deny it.

They’re not pushing her towards Jirou or Minami—in fact, they say those aren’t the only two guys in the world. They want her to be happy, and to settle on her own choice on her terms. Opportunity knocks when the girls see a poster for an upcoming fireworks festival.

Naturally, dressing Akari in her yukata is a job for her “husband”, and while her talk with her friends leads to her mentioning Minami more as she teases Jirou, the fact of the matter is, having Jirou dress her is as big a deal for her as it is for him; he just can’t see her red face since he’s behind her. It’s also telling that she says a bow-style obi tie is too “childish”—again assuming Minami only likes mature things.

Akari meets Sachi and Natsumi at the festival with her head held high, ready to take a step forward in figuring (gestures everywhere) all this out. Of course, it’s not that easy, as she’s trying to go back to a place where she’s comfortable play-acting as a wife to Jirou and she’s back to thinking only of Minami in a romantic capacity. In effect, she’s trying to go back to a place that no longer exists.

Even if spending the evening with Minami cleared things up, that opportunity is torn away from her at the last minuite, as his friends arrive Minami-less and contrite; he had to take an extra shift at work due to the festival, and was too nice to turn it down.

Sachi tries to salvage the night by having the boys buy them a bunch of snacks and sweets as penance, but after psyching herself up, Akari is rightfully deflated. To add insult to injury, she spots Minami at the festival after all, in street clothes with Shiori and in what looks like pleasant conversation.

It turns out they’re just taking the shortest route to a point where he’ll go off to work while she’ll head home. They’re not on a date, and from their scene together, there’s still no actual romantic chemistry between them. They’re simply both doing their part as partners in a practical exercise.

Of course, that’s not what it looked liked to Akari, and that’s all that matters. Her friends see her turn pale and assume she’s disappointed in not getting to be with Minami. In reality, she’s that way because she did see him. When the other boys said he wouldn’t be coming, a part of her even felt relieved.

Jirou doesn’t have to spend this night alone at home. He could have called Shiori and taken a step towards that route had he wanted; I doubt she would have refused judging from her look back after she and Minami parted. I wouldn’t really have felt bad for him if his self-imposed loneliness had endured.

However, I do feel bad that, like Akari, he’s simply not sure of anything anymore. If he and Akari are a functional and happy fake couple, he knows one day they won’t be, like when it comes time to swap partners. He worries about what they’ll be after that, and even if they’ll be anything at all.

But when he gets a call from Akari and there are only tears on the other side of the line, if he’s paying attention he’s answering his own question with his reaction: slipping on his coat and running to wherever she is. Luckily for him, that turns out to be right outside their door. As Akari sobs into her hands, she apologizes to Jirou, and by extention, everyone who worked so hard to create an opportunity for her to move forward.

She also worked hard herself, taking extra time to make her hair, nails, and makeup perfect for Minami. And yet, at the end, she just came home. Jirou dries her eyes with his sleeve, then offers a hand up, saying “Welcome home”. Akari collapses into his arms, saying “I’m home”, and has the big, wet, cathartic cry she needs to have. And only Jirou’s arms will do.

Once the tears have passed, the two stand on the balcony as the fireworks start in the distance. When she teases him more and accuses him of being jealous, he doesn’t deny it, which surprises her, but she likes it. Then she takes his hands, puts them on her obi, and asks him to make the bow he wants to make.

When he gets to a step he can’t do, she takes out her phone to find the instructional video. When it slips out of her hands, it falls into his, and she puts her hands over his and draws them close, asking him to simply hold her and say her name, again and again. If he does, she thinks she can “try again”.

Jirou remembers Akari saying how she loses her confidence sometimes, and this is definitely one of those times. In this moment, and while upside-down heart-shaped fireworks start to explode above them, Jirou does as he’s told. She thanks him for not asking what happened, but simply being there for her.

In his mind, Jirou admits he didn’t ask because he didn’t want to know. Just as Akari felt relieved when she heard Minami wouldn’t be coming, Jirou felt relieved when she came home. While he still considers their happiness in this moment to be fleeting, perhaps both he and Akari would be better-served listening to those little pangs of relief and what that means not for Minami, or Shiori, but the two of them.

This episode surpassed the previous racy couch scenes because this felt a lot more overtly romantic. The two have identified those moments of relief and want to understand them better, even as they are still on some level committed to rooting for each other with their other potential partners. Combine the beautiful visuals, lighting, and colors of these scenes with Akari’s friends being The Best and we have the best Fuukoi outing yet.

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