Summertime Render – 12 – The Kitchen’s Closed

Tokiko reveals Hiruko no Mikoti, Mother of Shadows and God of Hitogashima, also known as Haine, the form of the first human Hiruko copied. To the outrage and disgust of her friends and brother alike, Toki also reveals her family’s solemn duty to feed Haine the bodies of the dead to restore her power.

When Sou bristles, Toki hits back, saying she had no choice; with Sou “being the way he is” he could never be told about the fam’s secret, while feeding Haine is the only way to keep their mother, now a Shadow, alive. As for Ushio, Toki says she got herself killed sticking her nose where it didn’t belong out of her own sense of justice.

Among the two bodies presented for Haine tonight by Nurse Negoro is Ushio’s original corpse; a double was cremated and the bones printed. When Ushio frees herself and snatches up her original body, she’s able to repair her arm and fight at full strength, which is good because Haine transforms Nurse Negoro into a musclebound monster.

Shinpei tries to take advantage of the chaos to shoot Haine with his nailgun, newly printed from Ushio’s hair, but before he can shoot both the gun and his fingers are sliced off by Haine’s Shadow bodyguard, who is holding an unconscious Mio by her head and threatens to crush her skull if anyone moves.

The bodyguard shoots at Tokiko, who was unaware that Haine plans to kill and eat everyone on the island, but Sou takes a bullet for his sister. It doesn’t matter; the bodyguard simply shoots her dead too, now that she and the Hishigatas have fulfilled their duties to Haine.

As Tetsu finally encounters the wounded Hizuru and agrees to carry her deeper into the cave, Haine decides not to kill Ushio, but reprogram her brain and use her as another tool. She also snatches Shin’s time-looping eye—the one in which he “renders” different realities—but it soon disappears from her hand and returns to his socket; not even a god can take away his power.

But what Haine and her hulking bodyguard can do is restrain him and keep him alive until her plans come to full fruition. The bodyguard kills Mio, and Shin’s last chance to be killed and loop seems to rest with Tetsu and Hizuru, who arrive just in time. Tetsu distracts the bad guys with his boobery, giving Hizuru a clean shot at both the bodyguard’s head and Shinpei.

Alas, the bodyguard shields Shinpei and kills Hizuru, so Shinpei uses his last resort: drinking an entire bottle of mercuric chloride from the abandoned clinic, which will most definitely kill him, albeit slowly and painfully. He uses time it takes for the poison to do him in to promise Haine that he’ll defeat her and save everyone. At the same time, Ushio’s powers have advanced to the point she can not only resist Haine’s corrosion, but reverse it and free herself.

Ushio’s final effort is to lunge to where Ushio is dying and take his hand, and she goes through the time loop with him. As long as they’re together, Ushio promises to go anywhere with him, as many times as it takes. But lest we forget, every time he returns to a new loop—this newest being the fifth—he starts a little later. He and Ushio arrive hand-in-hand just as he’s telling Hizuru and Nezu that he’s a time traveler, her book in his hand.

Shinpei now has a lot more information about the bad guys and their plans, but less time to act. The good news is Shadow Ushio is with him, along with all of the amassed memories of the previous loop. Her powers may also already surpass those of the weakened Haine. This episode at the series’ halfway point delves into the bloody depths of despair but ends on a note of hope and optimism that Shinpei and Ushio can turn this train wreck around.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 11 – A Proper Woman

Sachi is out visiting her folks at the newly opened family diner, so when a storm causes a blackout, it’s just Nagi and Erika, who instinctually hold one another. Growing up loaded, Erika is so unaccustomed to outages she assumes the Martians are attacking.

Once she lights her aromatherapy candle, she and Nagi calm down, and have a cozy little conversation about how much fun they’re both having. Then Erika realizes there’s an emergency kit in the entry hall coat closet and has him go collect it.

While in the hall, Nagi finds a puddle, then trips and falls into who he thinks is Erika…but it’s actually Sachi, who just got home. When he falls into her, they lock lips, but he dismisses it as no big deal and returns to Erika, who is calling for him like a wife would.

But it is a big deal for Sachi, and there’s no way she can forget it! After hearing the exact same scenario play out on her and her friends’ favorite anime, she decides “Screw Onii” and avoids him for the next couple days, making the atmosphere at home awkward for everyone, including Erika.

When Nagi finally comes clean to Erika about what happened, Erika dons her sexy teacher cosplay and points out where Nagi erred. He may still see her as his brat of a kid sister, she’s close to marriageable age; a “proper woman”, and Nagi was insensitive.

When it’s just Nagi and Hiro at the next library study session, Hiro can tell something’s up and offers her services as spiritual counselor free of charge. She tells Nagi he can be insensitive, especially when he blew through her admitting she was engaged and publicly declared academic war against her. But she also likes how straightforward and direct he is, so she advises him to be that way here.

Thanks to the perspective and advice of two other people who care about both him and Sachi, Nagi arrives at Sachi’s door nervous but prepared to end this little row with honesty and contriteness.

He tells Sachi he’s sorry for hurting her and being so thoughtless, and declares his intention to no longer look at her or treat her as just his kid sister, but the proper woman she is fast becoming.

His words do the trick; we know that Sachi wanted this from Nagi, and hearing the words from his mouth without her having to beat him over the head with a baseball bat means the word to her.

Of course, Nagi remains blissfully unaware of the fact Sachi has feelings for him, but hey, at least they’re talking again. Erika is clearly relieved that the vibes will improve

I remain unenthused at the prospect of a Sachi Route, and their accidental kiss could reasonably be held in contempt of the laws of physics, but it was true that Nagi wasn’t being fair to Sachi, and his adjustment in thinking was both welcome and arrived upon thanks to the friendships he’s forged with Erika and Hiro.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 11 – The Prince

Before Shikimori, Izumi was in a dark place. He tried to keep a brave face, but his propensity for misfortune isolated him. He prayed to God, asking if things would ever get better, and if not, if God could give him the strength to endure the pain and sadness, adding that he wished a hero would appear before him.

It’s as morose and heartbreaking as the show has ever gotten with Izumi’s condition, which has evolved from a joke to something more akin to a legitimate curse without cause. But if there’s no cure, there is a hero, and she comes with pink hair and the best Face Game this side of FLCL.

Shikimori and Izumi haven’t been able to hang out as a couple what with all the festivals, so Izumi suggests an amusement park. The ad he shows Shikimori shows a couple leaning in for a passionate kiss, so she’s in, in the worst way.

The question is, what to wear? Not that it matters; Izumi would think Shikimori was cute no matter what she wore. Shikimori’s older brother Fuji drives her to the mall, but doesn’t accompany her shopping. Indecisive about what to buy, she leaves the stores empty-handed and finds Fuji nervously sandwiched between two interested women.

She reluctantly rescues him from the situation, noting how he’s much shyer than he looks, and how maybe he’s the one who needs his hand held, after he teased her about when she needed to hold his. We’re then treated to some lovely Shikimori backstory, with a short-haired Micchon kicking older boys’ asses at karate.

Back home there’s an unnerving tension between her and her strict-seeming mother about whether she’ll be continuing with karate in middle school, even though she only started it because her brother did. Shikimori decides she’ll stick with it and lists the pros, and her mom smiles approvingly.

Shikimori starts being referred to as the “Prince” by boys who know they’d better not mess with her or the other girls. She rises to the top of the karate rankings, and even has the potential for the nationals come high school, but the one opponent she can never come close to beating is Fuji, who one rainy day suddenly announces he’s quitting.

Her karate friends are excited for her high school karate future, but she tells them she’s quitting too. Not because Fuji quit before, but because she discovered the magic of love through shoujo romance manga, and has decided to stop following others and choose for herself who she should be, which is a cute girl who will fall in love with a kind, handsome boy.

AND SO IT CAME TO PASS…but obviously not right away. First, Shikimori applies the same ferocious, focused work ethic to becoming a cute girl that she applied to become good at everything else she’s ever tried—she’s an extraordinary person—and is prepared to completely rebrand herself at high school, starting with entrance exams.

It is here where she and Izumi first meet, the latter’s exam ticket having been caught by the wind and lodged on a high tree branch. Shikimori was worried about mussing her hair not 30 seconds before, but when she sees Izumi’s distraught face (similar to the face he wore while praying for a hero) she climbs that tree and gets him the ticket. He expresses his heartfelt gratitude, but she’s too worried he thinks she’s weird to accept it.

The two meet again on the first day of high school, having both passed the exams. He thanks her again, and proceeds to explain why what she did mattered so much to him, explaining how he’s always been unlucky. He also says he’s glad he got to see her again just as the sunlight and wind and cherry blossoms make him look extra kind and handsome, and Shikimori asks for his name with a face so intense it kinda frightens him.

Of course, Izumi come to love those faces of hers, to the extent that he’ll feel a little jealous when others get to see them. But it’s so nice to finally see what Shikimori was like in her earlier years, how she and Izumi met, and how they were so perfect for one another right from the start. Fuji surprising her with the lipstick she liked was a perfectly heartwarming closing note. She’ll wear it to look cute, but also to give her courage.

Summertime Render – 11 – Prelude to Feeding

Shinpei, Sou, and Ushio with her nifty Shadow powers are looking like a great team against their Shadow adversaries…at first. As they go deeper into Shadow territory they find themselves increasingly outnumbered and outmatched.

Two other groups head into the sewers: the well-armed and prepared Minakata and Nezu, and Mio and Tetsu, the latter just hoping for some tough guy cred, while Mio wants to follow someone who is clearly Shadow Shiori, who isn’t lying when she says Shin is “down there”.

After another wave of Shadow Babies is defeated in a cave full of undersea life (shades of Nausicaa), Ushio collapses, and finally comes clean to Shin and Sou about her arm. Since Shiori damaged her main body, she needs data from the original Ushio’s body to repair it…but Ushio was cremated, so she can either endure the pain and bleeding or delete the arm, limiting her abilities.

While Tetsu and Mio continue to tread far too close to their demises (and Tetsu gets himself copied; as we know Mio is immune), suddenly Tokiko turns up to confront Team Ushio, with a pair of Shadow Baby heavies. Shinpei waits for her to get close enough, then shoots her shadow full of nails and…nothing happens. Tokiko isn’t a Shadow…she’s just Tokiko.

If there’s one complaint I have with this tripartite excursion to the Hiruko Caves, it’s that it’s hard to gauge where each group is in relation to one another. You’d think Shinpei, Sou and Ushio, not to mention Tetsu and Mio, would hear Minakata’s shotgun blasts in a cave. And yet, the three groups never meet or even realize they’re all in generally the same place.

Undefined spatial relationships aside, one lesson that applies to all three groups is Never wander into the caves. Minakata and Nezu end up facing off with Shiori (who only pretended to be killed earlier) and her much bigger and tougher multi-limbed pal, who copies a shotgun, shoots Nezu in the chest, and Minakata in her liver as she’s fleeing.

This just shows that there are dark and deadly things down here that either no human has ever seen and lived to talk about, or in the apparent case of the Hishigatas (sans Sou), they’ve known about all too long. It’s a family secret, but back at their dad’s lab, it seems clear that he’s taken an active role in the cultivation of Hiruko and/or Haine.

Knowing they’re out of their element, Shinpei surrenders to Tokiko, who agrees to show them everything and come clean to her brother—as long as they don’t tell Mio, one thing Toki-chan apparently couldn’t bear. They arrive in the core of the cave where both Hiruko and Haine dwell, and their stomachs are growling. Usually a joke in anime, here it makes the skin crawl.

It’s now 9:00 PM, and “time to feed.” With the next episode ominously titled “Deadly Night”, I’m with Ushio in thinking Shinpei has probably abandoned this loop as a viable chance to fix everything. Progress has definitely been made, but much has gone wrong.

At this point, all Shin can hope is that he gathers enough info for to make the next loop more of a success before dying and returning. That probably means heading to the caves much earlier next time, and preventing Ushio from getting wounded.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 13 (Fin) – Cast Away Memories

Shield Hero comes to the end of this second season not quite sure what to do, so it dredges up a few little vignettes from the past, in the context of the characters having little “remember when” moments. It’s odd; it has the feel of a recap since there’s absolutely no forward movement to the plot, but since we never saw the scenes, it’s more of the kind of bonus episode you’d get with a Blu-Ray box set.

The Shield Hero completionist is then honor-bound to sit through a scene of the girls dressing Lil’ Raphtalia and themselves up in various costumes to get to the emotional scraps meat on the bone of this episode: actually watching Kizuna’s descent into ennui, suicidal thoughts, and then acceptance of her plight and making the most of it thanks to the Shield Hero version of Wilson the volleyball from to 2000 film Cast Away.

Kizuna regales that story to Yomogi, who then recalls her last fun moment with Kyou, when he trashed his lab looking for glasses that were on his face all along. This kinda clangs on the ground because as close as Yomogi once was to the guy, Kyou’s a villain and irredeemable jackass. Thankfully we didn’t flash back to that scene or have to see his punchable face.

Finally, Rishia and Raphtalia recall the time Ost taught them about sex, and while Raph had no idea what she was talking about, Filo understood the concept of mating right away. Back in the present, Naofumi, Raph, Filo, and Rishia stop on a promontory to release a bouquet of flowers in honor of Ost, and Ost’s force ghost shows up to wave farewell to Naofumi.

Anime News Network’s reviewer for this show often skewered it more than I, but they were right in one regard where they thought they were mistaken: the 12th episode was the last episode. This was just an epilogue, and while it had some cute moments, it didn’t justify the title of 13th episode.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 13 (Final Hole) – Killing You, In Golf

As Birdie Wing outings go, this last one was a bit tame; I’d almost go so far as to say leisurely. But I went in almost certain the entire All-Japan Girl’s Tournament wouldn’t get wrapped up in one episode; if it had, it would have surely sucked.

While expectations were lower, I still looked forward to lots of Eve and Aoi flirting, and in this I was not disappointed. Eve even starts things off frisky by giving Aoi a Nafrecian peck on the cheek and then claiming Ichina as her personal body pillow for the night, while Coach Reiya rightfully shoots Kinue down.


It’s a good thing Ichina shared a room with Eve too, as neither Eve nor Aoi would have slept a wink and not been ready for the golf. That said, due to their high qualifying rank they get a fairly late tee time, giving them time to good off more.

As Kuyou and Kaoruko do battle against another pair, their coach Date gets trash-talked by Reiya, who is confident his two first years will win decisively, seeing as how Aoi is golf royalty and Eve is the apprentice of the legendary Leo Millafoden.

This wouldn’t be much fun if Eve and Aoi didn’t run into a little adversity, as Eve’s worst enemy turns out not to be Himekawa Mizuho, but her own over-aggressiveness. She puts a ball into the bunker, and Aoi, perhaps a little too wound up about getting to play beside Eve, misses getting the ball out. That said, the two win their first round comfortably.

The thing is, Eve wanted to defeat their opponents to a pulp—kill them, with golf—as funny a collection of four words as I’ve heard spoken in an anime (I particularly love that comma in there). Their win, while easy, is also much closer than either of their elite rival pairs from Kouran and Nada.

We also learn that while Aoi is the daughter of Hodaka Kazuhiko, Himeko seems to have inherited his brand of golf, so much so that Aoi recognizes it instantly. Himeko and Kaede destroy their opponents in their two rounds, an impressive response to Eve and Aoi’s superior score in the qualifiers.

Eve’s usual mind games won’t work on the Kouran or Nada girls, but Ichina feels it’s actually good for her to be experimenting with her aggressiveness in earlier matches where it’s safe to do so. Eve and Aoi will have to take every risk they can to defeat Kaoruko and Himeko, to say nothing of killing them, in golf.

Naturally, this ends before those key duels take place, and a second season of Birdie Wing in Winter 2023 has restored my faith in both anime and humanity. As far as I’m concerned, the golf flirting and murder can go on indefinitely; a veritable Hole in One Piece.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 10 – A Leaf in the Forest

This week is a no-holds-barred Scooby-Doo adventure almost from start to finish. After watching what Ushio went through to warn Shinpei, there’s no way Sou isn’t going to tag along as they head to his family’s old abandoned clinic up in the mountains. Ushio also struts her Shadow Power stuff, able to transform into a shell necklace Shinpei wears, and explaining how her swimsuit is her armor.

Her abilities combined with Shinpei’s courage and Sou’s loyalty make them the perfect team to investigate a creepy haunted hospital. One great detail is a rare statue of the ancient Japanese deity Hiruko-sama, in the form of a limbless leach-like fertility idol. The fact that legend suggests it was heteromorphic creates an enticing connection to the clearly equally-ancient Shadows. Shinpei, Ushio and Sou end up in what seems to be a Shadow nursery.

Turns out there’s something even more terrifying than a Shadow … a baby Shadow, one that seems docile and harmless enough right up until Shinpei tries to shoot it with a nailgun. It dodges and rolls and bounds all over the place until Sou hits it with his baseball bat.

But then it wraps around the bat (again, Shadow) and very nearly kills him, only Shinpei has been practicing his nailgunning and gets three shots into the Shadow. Ushio finishes it off with her Shadow hair, and cue Victory Fanfare for the Scooby Gang. As much as I fear for their safety, it’s a hell of a lot of fun watching these three old friends get shit done.

At the end of the battle, Ushio gives Sou a playful shove forward as the three continue their investigation, but her arm starts bleeding, like the injury that occurred to a previous copy of the arm has returned. After her powers are essentially a cheat code for most of the episode, it’s good for the episode to self-level and demonstrate she’s far from all-powerful.

Shinpei knows this, and he also stands by his promise to always protect her (which made her blush earlier), and his foreknowledge of the nightmares to come even make a dark cave full of Shadow babies seem…not that bad? He knows firsthand it can always be worse! That said, considering how much effort it took to defeat one baby, the trio have their work cut out for them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 12 (Fin) – Eraser War and Peace

It’s already March and White Day is upon him, but Tadano doesn’t know what to get Komi. Candy means you like someone, cookies mean they’re just a friend, but to him Komi is kinda-sorta both. What to do? Well, under the unconvincing guise that he’s getting a gift for Katai, he enlists the help of his sister Hitomi, who is excited about her big bro “gettin’ some”, in the parlance of our times.

White Day is actually Saturday, but everyone takes care of their business on Friday…except Tadano, who instead invites Katai to dinner. That only makes his task more difficult as he must go to Komi’s house the next day and brave her parents.

But he does make it, and delivers a very sweet and thoughtful gift of hand cream, along with a single candy. Just like she gave him the very best of the “friendship” chocolate she made, the single candy is an acknowledgement of something more than just friends, and it’s not lost on Komi.

Komi seems a little out of it to Tadano one day, but before he can ask her what’s up, Najimi goes and starts the eraser war to end all eraser wars. Much like the snowball fight with the kids, this takes an extremely mundane classroom activity to a ridiculous level of intensity that involves the entire class and ends with Komi claiming an easy, stylish victory.

Then the class clears out, leaving just Komi and Tadano together in the classroom as the rains fall outside. Komi, increasingly unafraid of speaking out loud to Tadano, tells him she feels lonely since the closing ceremony is upon them and they’ll be in a new class soon.

Tadano uses the rain as a metaphor to ensure her that things will be alright, and that they shouldn’t lament the end of one year, but celebrate how amazingly full and fun that year was, in which she made one friend, then two, then three, then, I dunno, something approaching twenty.

The first day of the new school year, there’s every indication Komi and Tadano ended up in the same class together again, and when he says good morning, she puts the notebook away and tells him she’s looking forward to another year with him. It’s Peak Sweet Komi, and a perfect way to close the curtain on the second—and most likely not final—season.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 10 – Cup Ramen and Foie Gras

When Erika takes off to hang out with her mom (the one who raised her) Sachi doesn’t waste the sudden opportunity to hang out with her Onii. She ostensibly wants to buy a gift for their mom, but both of seem to agree their mom isn’t much of a gift receiver, so you have to think part of her just wants to see what it’s like to go on something like a date with Nagi.

The two settle on an apron (and sure enough, their mom could take or leave it) but when Sachi comes upon the idea, Nagi rewards her with a head pat, which pisses her off to no end. As much as she pretends not to stand him, Sachi wants Nagi to see her as a girl, not an imouto. Alas, he’s utterly oblivious. He just wants to study and win Hiro, which is why he’s probably none too pleased about suddenly being yanked out of the house by Erika.

Erika, who herself was blissfully reveling in her first cup ramen, got a text from her dad saying he’s coming—no discussion, not argument, he’s just coming and that’s that—so she ditches both wallet and phone, grabs Nagi, and heads out. Where doesn’t matter; that even she’s not sure is the point. No GPS or purchase history means even someone as rich and powerful as her dad can’t find her if she doesn’t want to see him.

Instead, Sachi is person who encounters her dad making himself at home in the house. She initially thinks he’s a burglar, but she should have called the cops anyway, considering he later lures her out and plys her with foie gras. I’m with the wait staff of his restaurant: it’s weird that he suddenly takes Sachi out to dinner.

Sachi is there for the foie gras, and also considers it equitable to tell Erika’s father about how she and Nagi are getting along. She probably doesn’t realize she’s being a snitch, because she’s distracted by the fact this is another opportunity for her: if she says they’re terrible together, she could potentially be able to swoop in and have Nagi to herself (again).

But Sachi is not a bad person, so she tells Erika’s father the truth: as mismatched as their personalities seem, Erika and Nagi definitely have a spark—je ne fois gras, if you will. Their chat is interposed between scenes of Nagi showing Erika a good time with zero yen thanks to a steep hill and a piece of cardboard.

As for Erika’s increasingly creepy dad, he heads into his office to admire a framed photo of him and Erika’s dad with Erika…and Nagi, looking like older toddlers. This is strange, as my understanding is they were separated at birth; this suggests they were reunited at some point. It also gives credence to the fact the “certain someone” Erika is trying to reach through SM is, in fact, Nagi, and the two of them simply somehow forgot they knew each other as kids.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 10 – So Cute, So Cool

Hot on the heels of the cultural festival is the athletics festival, and while I was fully ready to throw my hands up and shout “no more festivals”, this episode soon convinced me otherwise. That’s entirely because the five-person mixed relay team is none other than our five friends Shikimori, Izumi, Nekozaki, Inuzuka…and Hachimitsu.

The three jocks of the group help train the fast but mishap-prone Izumi and the slow, indoorsy, generally reluctant Hachimitsu. Both are amazed and heartened by how kind and patient Shikimori, Nekozaki, and Inuzuka are. Hachimitsu has the most athletic ground to cover, but she has the right teachers.

In fact, both she and Izumi are sufficiently inspired to keep training together even when their sporty friends have to head off to practice for their other events. Izumi wonders why Hachimitsu is working herself to the bone for running, something she’s never been a fan of.

As she zips her jacket over half her face, Hachimitsu’s answer is simple; if it makes everyone happy, then she’s happy. On the day of the festival, the girls watch the guys do the human cavalry thing, and Hachimitsu notices Shikimori ogling Izumi, looks a little jealous for a moment, then tells a joke. It’s a nifty little exchange that really deepens the complexity of this group’s bond.

When Hachimitsu participates in the bag toss, she turns out to be quite exemplary at it. No doubt she was motivated by watching the boys working hard, and by the warm and enthusiastic support of all of them. Her reward for her near-victory is one of Shikimori’s biggest smiles, and Hachimitsu can’t help but beam back in pride and satisfaction.

With the mixed relay approaching, Hachitmitsu can’t help but feel nervous. Shikimori, who looks so calm and cool, takes her hand in hers, revealing it’s ice cold because she’s nervous too. But nervousness and lack of confidence are two very different things. Shikimori says that having fun is most important, but if it’s all the same, she’s going to have fun winning. Hachimitsu can’t repel competitive fire of that magnitude.

Nekozaki gets their team into first place in the first leg, then hands it off to Hachimitsu. She’s moving so much faster than she’s used to she gets disoriented and trips herself. She falls on her face and skins her knee, but the baton never left her hand; they’re still in it. She gets back up and keeps running, handing the baton off to Izumi cleanly.

Izumi loses a shoe, but simply loses the other and keeps running in his stocking feet, and does not trip and fall, or fall further behind. He hands it off to Shikimori, who singlehandedly gets the team from the rear back into second place with acceleration that uniformly shocks all in attendance.

Just before Inuzuka receives the baton from her, he gets one good look at her intense face and knows that he just can’t let her or the others down. He only has one man to beat, and he beats him to the finish. Izumi is the first to tackle him into a celebratory hug, followed closely by Nekozaki.

Izumi is so high on their upset victory, he exhibits absolutely no propriety by taking Shikimori into his arms and holding her close, very nearly causing her to overheat. Then Hachimitsu—indoorsy, wisecrakin’ ol’ Hachimitsu—smiles a genuine smile of glee as she thanks everyone for working hard, shocking her friends.

The victorious quintet then poses for a beautiful Postcard Memory as Hachimitsu reiterates how happy and proud she is to have such fine friends. I tell you, it’s legit goddamn tearjerker material, and it’s also one of Shikimori’s best episodes. Just five incredibly cute, cool friends, supporting each other, making each other better, and having a blast. Who could ask for more?

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 12 – Savage Burn

After some glimpses of both Naofumi and Kyou’s past lives in the real world—the latter having nothing but contempt for those days and said world—we see the transported Cardinal Heroes of this world just managing to hold their own against the new Waves of Catastrophe, while Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo, Rishia, and Yomogi enter Kyou’s lab. They’re met by three of the late Kazuki’s ever-loyal attendants in chimera form, and Raph makes quick work of them with her katana.

After that, Kyou does his gloating villain thing and then sends a zombified version of Kazuki after them. While Raph and Filo deal with him, Naofumi and Rishia break through and reach Kyou. Kyou is good enough at what he does to enrage Naofumi enough for him to draw upon the Rage Shield, which quickly takes control of his persona and even tries to choke out Rishia, saying some horrifyingly mean things about her in the process.

Rishia doesn’t take the insults personally, but insists that the rage shield release Naofumi immediately. But what ultimately quells his rage and frees him from the shield’s hold is an echo of Ost, who asserts that he doesn’t need the shield’s flames. Naofumi wakes up flanked by Raph and Filo, accepting the anger he feels for Kyou but letting it pass and moving forward—much to Kyou’s consternation.

Wielding the Vassal Weapon of the missing Mirror Hero of this world, Naofumi ethers Kyou, not because it’s the right thing to do or because it will save this world, but for himself, of his own free will. Even as he is defeated, Kyou seems to think that Naofumi’s troubles are far from over, so he should enjoy his victory while it lasts. After one last appearance from “Ghost Ost”, Yomogi thanks Naofumi for defeating her friend gone entirely astray.

After that, the Waves of Catastrophe vanish and Naofumi’s party is reunited with Kizuna, Glass, L’Arc and Therese. There’s talk of returning to L’Arc’s palace and having a celebratory banquet, but a one-minute countdown sudenly begins on Naofumi’s HUD, the result of having defeated Kyou and retrieving the Spirit Tortoise’s power; the reason he and his party were able to travel to this world.

Kizuna tears up as she accepts the fact their goodbye must come far sooner than she thought, and Naofumi invites her to come by his world anytime she likes, assuming she’s able to do so. Back home in their world, Naofumi is given a medal and the title of Viscount by Queen Mirelia, and learns that the other three Cardinal Heroes made themselves useful while he was gone by repelling the Wave that appeared at the same time it did in Kizuna & Co.’s world. But while things are relatively peachy, other problems remain to be dealt with, like a new awakened Guardian Beast, the Phoenix.

While there’s still an episode remaining, this felt like a finale, and not a great one. Things felt incredibly rushed, Naofumi moving past his rage felt like a retread of last season; the occasionally fun Kyou was profoundly one-dimensiona, and while Ost was a warm and loveable character, her emotional involvement in this episode and arc felt unfinished and unearned.

While it wasn’t without a couple of decent episodes, I’m sad to say this second season has proved to be a pale shadow of his predecessor. That said, there’s one episode—and an entire third season—to come. Maybe they’ll be better.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 12 – They’re Coming After Us

Nadaminami’s Himekawa Mizuho, Japan’s Number One high school golf girl, knows the upcoming doubles tournament is meant to be a coronation for the Athena CEO’s daughter Aoi, another stepping stone to the pros. Mizuho’s partner bristles at the idea, but Mizuho wants the best rivals possible in order to become stronger. Aoi isn’t an obstacle, but a tool to hone her own greatness.

But before Mizuho can face off, both she and Kaede and Aoi and Eve need to get through prefectural qualifiers, which for both pairs amounts to barely more than a warm-up. Coach Reya doesn’t even bother attending; if they can’t win the qualifiers, they never had a chance anyway. Aoi and Eve stand out, being incredibly cute and blonde, respectively.

Their only serious competition in the qualifiers is Satou, a third year and an absolute unit, but while she drives the ball further than Aoi, Eve drives it even farther with her Blue Bullet, crushing not only Satou’s spirit but the other players watching as well.

The qualifiers become a match between Aoi and Eve; whoever has the best score will treat the other to burgers. We’ve been waiting for the opportunity to watch Eve and Aoi do proper golf battle, and this episode does not disappoint. It even has their caddies Ichina and Amane getting along, despite their analog and digital approaches to caddying.

In addition to their personal wager, Reiya tells them before their match that Nadaminami and Mizuho already advanced with a 10-under score. Aoi and Eve end up tying at 11-under. When an underling gives Mizuho the report, she warns Kaede that Aoi and Raiou’s new “secret weapon” are coming for the crown, and she’s fired up.

After a brief call to Klein and Lily (who is upset Eve shipped her the wrong Gunpla), Eve hops on the Raiou bus to the tournament fashionably late, wearing her “battle gear”, a bodacious outfit that flaunts the school dress code. Kinue is appalled, but Reiya allows it, because he wants all eyes on Raiou.

Eve also declares she doesn’t mind guys like Reiya, but Kinue grabs his sleeve and tells Eve she can’t have him, which…girl, get you someone who doesn’t make you golf your elbow off on purpose! After Ichina explains tournament-style match play rules, Aoi expresses her excitement over playing so many strong golfers, and Eve gives her a teasing head pat that turns her ears hot pink. I never tire of these two flirting.

Once they arrive at Athena Golf Course, venue for the tournament, Eve walks right by Kuyou, whom she pretty much beat, acknowledges Kaoruko, and then loudly calls Himekawa Mizuho out. Kaede can’t believe how uncouth this foreigner is, but Mizuho has no problem walking right up in Eve’s face and introducing herself.

Eve can tell Mizuho is strong and “worth defeating”, but Mizuho isn’t intimidated in the least—just as Aoi wasn’t when she tried her usual shtick—and says something with dead seriousness that just made me laugh out loud because it’s so dumb and awesome: “I’ll kill you, in golf.” Mizuho may be Number One now, but that was before Eve dazzled the Japanese high school golf stage. She’s coming for the Queen, and she’s not planning to miss.

Spy x Family – 12 (Part 1 Fin) – Aquatope of Spy Fam

It was pretty apparent SPY x FAMILY wasn’t going to end at twelve episodes, but not so apparent was how it would wrap up its first cour. Rather than a big new development or thrilling cliffhanger, it elects for a bit of a grab bag palate cleanser. The first few minutes are easily it’s weakest, as the heavy narration and retreading of facts we already know had the stench of a recap.

Thankfully, that soon transitions to Loid’s current predicament, which is that Operation Strix is not his only job as Twilight, it’s just his most important. Due to short staffing, he’s called upon to take on numerous side missions that keep him out late or otherwise separated from his fake family.

When he overhears the neighbors gossiping about it, he decides action must be taken to shore up his standing as husband and father in his apartment block by taking Anya and Yor to the aquarium on a day off. Of course, this means completing all of his side missions beforehand, leaving him particularly haggard on the big day.

Still, Loid shakes it off for the good of Operation Strix. As his fellow spy who works at the subway store makes clear, spies work towards peace and a day when they’re no longer needed. She also has a mission for Loid on the day of his family aquarium trip, but the mission happens to also take place at the aquarium.

It involves a secret microfilm containing intel on a new chemical weapon that could bring the country to its knees if it fell into the wrong hands. Fortunately, it is currently in no one’s hands, but down the gullet of one of the two hundred penguins at the Aquarium.

Loid, whom it’s been established is already exhausted from overwork, must balance time with his family (and keeping up appearances with the neighbors, who are also at the aquarium) and disguise himself as a far-too-competent newbie aquarium worker.

When he finds the penguin with the film, he’s soon confronted by its intended recipient, whose lousy fake professor ID doesn’t fool Loid for a second. The bad guy bolts, but Anya (who had previously used her ESP to find the right penguin for Papa) tracks him down, grabs him, and pretends to be kidnapped.

When she calls out to her Mama, Yor springs into action, once again demonstrating she has a bright future as a hero of justice if she ever wanted to ditch the whole cold-blooded assassin thing. She kicks the dude so hard his head goes through the ceiling and keeps him hanging there.

I love how Loid’s difficult day is made much easier by his daughter, who as we know cannot reveal her powers to him, lest the show lose a third of its conceit. Loid uses the energy saved to make a big show of being a Number One Dad to Anya by winning her a giant penguin plushie.

Being between five and six (like my own niece), Anya immediately makes use of her vivid imagination to create her own intelligence agency with her new penguin plushie. She gives him a hilarious tour of the apartment as if it were a secret spy hideout, and also uses the tour as a pretense to enter her Mama and Papa’s rooms, which is forbidden due to all the “dangerous things” that are in them.

Loid yells at Anya for trying to go into his room without permission, and as you would expect of a little kid, Anya also overreacts, saying she hates Papa and Mama and threatens to run away from home. Loid and Yor quickly improvise to improve Anya’s mood by lending their voices to her Penguin plushie and toy robot. Their roleplaying continues out on the city streets, where passersby note what a “sweet family” they are.

It is an incredibly sweet, if low-key, way to end this first cour: with the core family at perhaps its most charming and convincing. The word “fake” is thrown around a lot, but while Loid, Yor, and Anya are all hiding huge secrets form one another, the more they interact with each other and experience new things together, the less fake a family they become.

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