Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 07 – Murder on the Mystic Eyes Express

At what appears to be Kings Cross Station, Lord El-Melloi II awaits the arrival of that most infamous supernatural mystic eyes collection and auction train, Rail Zeppelin. He is accompanied by Gray (natch), and by one of his students, the berserker Caules Yggdmillenia. But that’s not all; not by a long shot. Rail Zeppelin passengers are a veritable cross section of the magical world.

There’s Olga-Marie Arsimilat Animusphere, daughter of the Lord of Astromancy, accompanied by her maid Trisha. There’s Adashino Hishiri of Policies, clearly there to observe and await what may befall Lord El-Melloi. There’s Karabo Frampton of the Holy Church, an intense rival of the Clock Tower. While not in El-Melloi’s party, his student and self-appointed “future mistress” Yvette Lehrman has her own invite.

Leandra introduces herself to the passengers as Rail Zeppelin’s auctioneer. Rodin is its conductor. And then there’s Rail Zeppelin itself: a spacious, sumptuously-appointed luxury train that seems far bigger on the inside than the outside, and travels on rails above leylines. I love trains and the whole idea of enjoying all the comforts of home while travelling somewhere far off. Rail Zeppelin itself is a character in this arc—and an immediately likable one at that.

It’s apparent there are a number of uneasy truces in operation between factions normally warring (either metaphorically or literally, or both). That lends the episode a tense and uneasy atmosphere. The train is stuck on a fixed rail, hurtling at high speed; a powder-keg that could explode at any moment for a whole host of reasons.

While Reines did not accompany Lord El-Melloi, she’s running her own investigation the theft of her brother’s catalyst for summoning a servant of the Holy Grail War: the Mantle of Iskandar. Such a task is frought with danger, so she hires Shishigou Kairi and pairs him up with Luviagelita Edelfelt (with whom she nicely bonded last week along with Gray)—an inspired duo if ever there was one.

Having foregone sleep for much of the last two nights, El-Melloi spends the first night and much of the following day catching up on sleep. Before he awakes for breakfast, Gray meets with Yvette in the dining car, who comes from a family who craft mystic eyes from gems, like the one her eyepatch conceals. Either Yvette can’t quite get Gray to admit they’re rivals for the Lord’s heart, or Gray simply doesn’t consider Yvette a rival at all.

Lady Aminusphere and Trisha once again meet with El-Melloi, to discuss his cooperation in the coming auction. Specifically, Olga-Marie wants the biggest prize of the auction—the highest-ranked Rainbow Mystic Eyes—the “ultimate operation of celestial bodies within the human body.” If El-Melloi helps her win them through strategic bidding and folding, he will be rewarded.

More to the point, she knows they’ll win them, because Trisha has seen that outcome with her Mystic Eyes of Premonition; the effects of which only add to Gray’s discomfort when combined to her symptoms of motion sickness (poor kid lacks her train-legs, perhaps in part because King Artoria is from a time long before such tech).

While off on her own recovering, Gray gets some friendly advice from Karabo Frampton. When the two touch, Karabo’s Mystic Eyes that can see the past glimpse King Artoria Pendragon in a field (clearly enjoying not being on a speeding train). He had suspected she wasn’t a mage like most everyone there, which leads to her belittling herself and underplaying her value to Lord El-Melloi. Karabo assures her she’s already someone the Lord “finds necessary.”

Trisha joins El-Melloi at the bar, revealing that she and her lady have investigated the role of one third-gen mage of limited renown Waver Velvet in the Holy Grail War; seeing the younger Waver reflected in his glass is a nice stylistic touch. El-Melloi, like Gray, may consider that role to have been flawed and inadequate, but the mere fact he survived is a testament to the contrary.

Trisha, believing he seeks Mystic Eyes as a weapon for the next Grail War, warns him that having Eyes means accepting the destiny of being bound to them. Of course, El-Melloi is more than prepared for such a destiny, as he’s already bound himself with the title of Lord El-Melloi—albeit while trying to limit expectations with a tacked on “II”—and all the duties and responsibilities therein.

Not to mention he’s bound to meeting with Iskandar once again, even if the Heroic Spirit has no memories of the last war and their time together. Gray sympathizes; who wouldn’t want someone you were devoted to carry memories of you? But just as El-Melloi goes into a spiril of self-loathing and Gray is about to cheer him up with the gift she got at Luvia’s store, there’s a loud, distressed scream.

El-Melloi and Gray rush to its source, and they find a shocked Olga-Marie kneeling before the bloody, headless body of Trisha. That makes Rail Zeppelin a Magical Murder Mystery Train, packed with potential suspects in the best Christie tradition, with El-Melloi as its Poirot. And there’s still the matter of who gave him one of only twelve open invites to the auction.

All we know for sure is that neither he nor Gray committed the murder, and that when Trisha was warning El-Melloi about being at peace with whatever destiny Mystic Eyes might provide, she was speaking from imminent experience. Her eyes allowed her to foresee her own demise—one she either couldn’t or wouldn’t avoid. She may have been the first victim of whatever power is at work here, but she likely won’t be the last.

Advertisements

DanMachi II – 06 – Orario Vice

When Bell, Lili and Welf are concerned about Mikoto acting weird, they follow her one night, and to her surprise she ends up meeting with Chigusa and entering Orario’s famous pleasure district, which is run by the wealthy and powerful Ishtar Familia (Ishtar is the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of love, war, and fertility).

Turns out Mikoto and Chigusa are searching for an old friend of theirs from their original home in the Far East, where she was a noble. Chigusa spotted her in the district and came to Mikoto, who saught confirmation before coming to the rest of Hestia Familia.

Lili, and certainly Hestia, would rather the adorable Bell be anywhere but the pleasure district, where he is  almost constantly approached, accosted, and embraced by dozens of beautiful, available women, including Aisha, one of Ishtar’s higher-ups. Separated from the others, Bell never had a chance to escape their clutches.

Right before he’s surrounded and picked up and taken to Ishtar’s palace to be passed between several eager Amazonesses, he spots an ethereal, yukata-wearing fox woman in a window, who judging from the glimpse of her last week, is the person Mikoto and Chigusa were looking for.

Ishtar herself has no time for a first-timer like Bell, but her underlings are all but willing to suck him dry, so to speak. The start of their fun is interrupted by the huge and grotesque Phryne, and Bell uses the distraction caused by the Amazons’ bickering (and his adventurer’s sneaking skills and speed) to slip away.

He ends up in the courtyard of one of the district’s fancier-looking brothels, and who does he encounter within one of the rooms but the straw-haired fox woman, named Haruhime, who assumes Bell is there to buy his first sexual experience.

It seems despite being more experienced than Bell, the sight of his collarbone still overwhelms her, giving him the opportunity to tell her he’s not there for sex, just to hide from the Amazons. She can understand; it’s tough to be a first-timer in a district where it’s the occupation of so many women to kidnap and have their way with you.

As they spend the rest of the evening chatting, discovering that they share a love of stories about heroes that originally drew them to Orario, Ishtar has a meeting with Hermes, who has delivered something to her that is of importance in her ongoing rivalry with Freya. When Hermes is reluctant to tell her what other weaknesses Freya might have that she can exploit, she removes what little clothing she is wearing in order to force the issue.

Haruhime tells Bell that while she loved those heroic stories, she no longer sees herself as someone worthy of being saved or protected. Despite her noble appearance and cushy digs, she doesn’t seem to see any nobility in her profession, only filth. It really brings Bell down, who doesn’t agree that she should have to sacrifice her dreams simply because circumstances, many of them not of her making, landed her in a brothel.

Still, he runs off into the night none too soon, as Aisha shows up immediately after to escort Haruhime back to her chambers. As for Ishtar, she gets the information she wanted out of an overwhelmed Hermes in bed: Freya is obsessed with Cranel Bell, and she can hurt her by stealing him from her.

So now Bell finds himself in the sights of not one but two distinct and powerful goddesses of love, war, sex, and fertility, and almost certainly doesn’t want his first encounter with Haruhime to be his last. If he’s the hero he thinks he is, he’ll no doubt try to find a way to free her from servitude.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 07 – You Mustn’t Become Boring

At the inn where he was extorted by Hitoha to take the Lit Club, Yamagishi-sensei is perfectly content to spend the evening with his folks, until he’s confronted by Hitoha in a particularly frisky mood. Forget her literary ambitions, she just wants to get with Milo-sensei, period. But thank goodness, he says four words that start to restore my faith in him: “Will you please stop?”

Sure, he’s pretty mean when he laughs at her inability to handle an imminent (but ultimately aborted) kiss when she was talking big about letting him lift her up by her thong and toss her to the floor. And when he tells her not to “bite off more than you can chew.” Hitoha may consider herself “a wretched sight,” but the alternative—if Milo-sensei had given in—would have been far, far worse.

As Momo withdraws from the baths, she can’t get the image of a totally naked and uninhibited Niina out of her mind, eliminating any doubt that she has a crush on her. Not only that, when Sugimoto RINEs her with a number of in-your-face stamps enthusiastically inquiring about how she’s doing, Momo almost seems resentful—how dare you, vapid boy, try to occupy headspace I’d rather have occupied by the fair Miss Sugawara?

Just before Momo returns to the bedroom, Rika is also exchanging innocuous texts with a boy—Amagi—the difference being Rika is loving every moment of it. Still, not so much that she’d let Momo know, as she rushes back to the brainstorming table. Momo muses that the idea of guys being simple and shallow is “an urban legend in itself,” and wonders why girls are supposed to couple with them instead of what she deems to be simpler girls she finds cuter.

Rika initially believes the two of them are far apart when it comes to how they feel, but in reality, they both liken how they feel to the bittersweet taste of a dark chocolate Pocky. They’re both interrupted by a rejected and thoroughly pissed-off Hitoha, who barges in with an urban legend about sweethearts wearing matching thongs…not knowing that might actually work for someone like Momo!

While the nature of the distance may vary, the love interests of all five girls are far away. Niina and Kazusa are unique in that they likely share the same love interest. It’s Niina who is there when Kazusa comes out of her overheated state, which is really for the best, as Niina gets to instigate the fight they really need to have in order to move forward, either as friends or something else.

The other three interrupt the fight, in part deeming it unfair due to Kazusa’s heat-fatigued state, but the five come up with a solution that serves everyone: a lively, no-holds-barred pillow fight. It’s a wonderful, semi-cathartic release, and thankfully Yamagishi-sensei has precisely no part in it whatsoever, keeping a distance and letting these girls in their savage season have it out with one another in an aggressive (fight) yet gentle (pillows) way.

The night Kazusa returns, she has dinner with Izumi’s family, but Izumi himself isn’t present. In another beautiful sequence, the two end up encountering one another from the windows of their respective bedrooms—a cliche to be sure, but an effective one in this case, especially as both had just been thinking of one another; specifically the fact they like one another.

Having learned a lot from her trip and gained quite a bit of confidence and courage, Kazusa draws on what she and only she knows—that Izumi is particularly into retro trains—and tosses him one in the form of a keychain. Izumi first thought of Kazusa as a girl when he could throw a baseball further than her. But this time, both the keychain and her feelings make it to him. It’s a small step, but definitely one in the right direction.

Back at school, Kazusa makes sure to apologize to Niina for being presumptuous about her stealing Izumi, but does so under the impression Niina has no interest in Izumi, which is actually just another presumption on her part! Ironically, Kazusa takes another confident step in volunteering to be the role of the girl to Niina’s boy in the lit club’s cultural festival performance.

As Momo adjusts Niina’s costume and blushes at the sight of her nape, and Rika continues to flush her relationship with Amagi down the toilet, Kazusa continues to reiterate in her head how she loves Izumi, and has always loved and treasured him back when she was his big-sister figure. But while Kazusa has probably never been more at peace, that peace is built on shaky ground.

As Kazusa confides to Niina that she’s just about ready to confess her feelings to Izumi, Niina is not quite ready to concede Izumi to her so easily, though she might ultimately do so out of respect for their friendship. Where she goes wrong is seeking advice from her middle-aged pedophile former acting coach Saegusa, whom she visits just as he’s calling his latest prized talent “boring”…apparently for being so obedient.

Saegusa doesn’t want to witness obedience, on the stage or off it; he wants to see rapture; the explosive moment when a girl spreads her wings and takes off, transforming into a woman, even if that woman holds no interest for him beyond the “final moment” of transition.

With that in mind, and considering his loyalties lie nowhere else, he urges Niina not to be boring like his young student, but rather to damn the torpedoes. It’s a heartbreaking scene, not least because it’s quite likely Niina will do whatever her old mentor says, no matter how much it might hurt her and/or Kazusa.

But like Momo’s near-total disinterest in boys, Rika’s near-total inability to be the girlfriend Amagi wants, Hitoha’s near-total commitment to pursuing a forbidden affair, and Kazusa’s near-total confidence in her love for Izumi, Sugawara Niina is beholden to the road paved by the sum total of her life experiences thus far.

As much as she might want to, she has yet to escape Saegusa’s influence, and can no more turn off that road than Momo can start liking boys. And so, it seems a war with Izumi is inevitable—and no longer the kind with mere pillows.

UchiMusume – 07 – Looking at Things

Latina looks at stuff!
Some stuff people.
Some stuff food.
Some stuff even animated
but some stuff static…
like a stone.

What began as a soft touch culture-crossing adoption story, with safe romps into medieval’ish fantasy life has become uneventful beyond the point of watchability. The sum total of this week’s non-looking at stuff content was a chat with a demon musician lady, who explained that Latina’s bracelet had her the full length version of her father’s name. This is common practice amongst demons living in the first demon lord’s domain.

Also, apparently, there are a lot of demon lords out there, with political and social ramifications to their deeds. I doubt UchiMusume will ever get to them though and I don’t care if it does. I’m dropping this show like a stone!

Maou-sama, Retry! – 07 – All or Nothing

In what amounts to a rolling, episode long battle sequence, we are introduced to:

    1. A Murder Clown, who is torn apart by Yu.
    2. Two zombie girls, who immediately get killed by Queen.
    3. The old knight “Marshal Arts,” who disappears without explanation.
    4. A sad demon girl, who dies and comes back after a flash back.
    5. The Prince of Darkness, who is killed by Dragonkin-Maou.

While there were many puns sprinkled among the character names, and it was funny that the number of Satanists in the battle would imply 1/3 of the total city population was Satanists, this was not at all a good episode. Constant move-names and pointless character introductions get dull fast and Maou isn’t even in the first half of the episode.

I’m not sure what the writers were trying to accomplish this week but the result was barely watchable. Ouch!

Granbelm – 06 – Okayish

Nene isn’t dead. Anna Fugo’s rage is finally explained and resolved. Dark Blue goes off on her own. Kuon has a cold. Mangetsu makes lots of soup.

Granbelm did a lot right this week but, like a super model striding down the catwalk in a pretty dress and gigantic clown shoes, it contradicts itself and cannot help trip over its feet in the process.

Anna’s confidence stems from mastering a fire-to-ice combo spell her mother and grandmother couldn’t master… except Anna didn’t actually master it. Ernesta did. This is a nice twist and shutting Anna down by replicating Anna’s inability, backed by Anna’s own mother’s words, and showing this like came from a place of love in Ernesta, tied a nice little bow around the conflict.

…but… this returns us to the clown shows problem. If Anna has never had meaningful power, showing her casting powerful magic during the tourney for 3/6 of the episodes doesn’t make any sense. Honestly, none of the relative magic power levels make a lick of sense but Anna’s all-is-nothing story hinges on something we have seen constantly contradicted in battle.

I’m happy Nene isn’t dead and it’s charming to see her invested in Mangetsu and/or Ernesta becoming the witch. I’m not sure I buy that her life long ambition can turn on an emotional dime like that but it’s pleasant and it moves the narrative onward.

Onward to what? Anna seems to be out, which means Dark Blue Is the only villain left. This week was a decent episode and there’s obviously more going on in the world than we know… but how that’s going to fill 7 more episodes? I’m not sure I’m looking forward to.

Astra Lost in Space – 07 – Accepting Hopelessness

When the unsubtle episode title “PAST” appeared in the corner of the screen, and Charce was forced to bring up his own dark (and monochromatic) past, it felt like here we go, another episode that sticks to the formula of revealing a character’s backstory in order to eventually strengthen their bond with the rest of the crew.

Now, that did happen, but it didn’t take the whole episode; just five minutes. That wasn’t a lot, but Charce didn’t mince words: he’s from the only part of Mars where a (technologically stunted) kingdom was allowed to exist, he was part of a noble family, and befriended a commoner girl, who was accidentally shoved off a high wall when police caught her in restricted territory.

She didn’t die, but one day her family up and left, and Charce wasn’t far behind, leaving the noble Luddite life behind. But he never found her again. It’s for this reason, and the fact he’d just transferred into the class before space camp, that he gave off a suspicious aura. But when they learn how tragic his past was, the crew surrounds him with empathy and affection.

Strangely, the girl, Seira, sure sounded like she was voiced by Minase Inori, who also voices Aries, whom Charce remarks is “just like” Seira. Cold Aries be Seira, her lost memories of Vixia and Charce a result of her fall? Just something to chew on.

But as I said, the repeating structure of the last few episodes was completed in the first five minutes. From there, we move on to the arrival at the newest planet, Icriss, which despite the singing of the school choir members does not spin, or rather has a rotation that’s precisely in line with its orbit. One side is perpetually baked in the sun, the other frozen in the darkness.

The only safe zone where there’s water, life, and food is the narrow belt between the zones. They descend through the atmosphere and encounter a bizarre jungle of immense plants and menagerie of equally gigantic animals, with some plants preying on the animals through use of electrical charges. One of those plants reaches out and grabs the Astra. That’s when things start to get bad.

With a series of evasive maneuvers, Zack is able to wrest free from the sinewy grip of the plant…thing…but the Astra takes damage. Zack loses attitude and decel control, and the ship will no longer yaw to port. He tries to ease the ship down but a gust of wind shoves it into some canyon rock, and the ship crashes and shuts down. That’s when things get worse.

Zack’s damage report is pretty dire. The Astra can move a bit, and is still capable of supporting life, but with a key reactor destroyed and no dock or parts or skilled engineers to repair it, they will never be able to return to space, much less attain FTL speed. He thus declares their voyage over. Their only course now is to find a way to live out their lives on Icriss.

As Kanata mentions while they’re still airborne, there were simply “too many things” that went wrong to end their journey, and they were unbelievably lucky to survive as long and travel as far as they did. But being commended for their achievements thus far is of no solace whatsoever. Quitterie, true to her character, has the most trouble accepting that where they are is where they’ll stay, barring extremely unlikely possibilities.

Zack is the opposite, calming down even more in the face of Quitterie’s panic, and it takes him time to drop the Vulcan stoicism and simply comfort someone who needs more time to process everything. Kanata, noted tough son-of-a-bitch, doesn’t claim not to be ready, but as the captain he recognizes he needs to give the appearance of being ready to move forward without hesitation. For her part, Aries is fine with waiting things out there, as long as Kanata he’s around.

Then, the game changes again, when Funi finds a second wreck, of a ship nearly identical to the Astra. Kanata, Zack, and Ulgar board her, and learn that she’s not spaceworthy anymore—though she could still have viable parts the Astra needs. While there’s no sign of any crew, there’s a message reading “Help me” on the monitor, and Zack realizes there’s probably someone in the ship’s single hibernation chamber.

Just before, he was suggesting to Quitterie if she really can’t accept living on Icriss, she could enter the Astra’s chamber and wait there in deep freeze for however many years, decades, or centuries it would take for someone to find and rescue her. Quitterie refused, but here it is, that very scenario playing out on the other ship, only it “only” took twelve years for someone to find them. The chamber’s occupant is awakened and revealed to be a beautiful blonde woman with pale blue eyes. And that is unfortunately when the credits roll.

Suffice it to say, this is exactly what Astra needed: something to shatter the status quo in a big way. Real peril and the toughest problem yet. While before there always seemed to be a way to science a solution and continue the journey, now in every instance it seems to be closing the door. Despite their smarts, talent, and moxie, the inexperience of the crew, even Zack, was exposed in a big way.

Still, I seriously doubt they’ll spend the rest of the show on Icriss, so between the second ship and its no-longer-sleeping beauty, there’s still plenty of hope to go around.

Given – 04 and 05 – Roaring to a Stand Still

In a delicious twist, Sato rejects Uecchi’s offer to join the band. Uecchi is utterly befuddled, agitated, and his google-fueled antics put Harkuki and Kaji in hysterics. Perhaps oblivious to the meltdown he has caused, Sato does exactly what he was asked to do and gets a part time job at the live music venue.

When Uecchi finally goes to confront Sato, old friends interrupt and STRONG IMPLY Sato’s guitar belongs to some one very special and very tragically dead…

Thankfully, Uecchi shakes him out of it and demands to hear Sato sing. The following episode is largely dedicated to Uecchi creating a song for Sato to sing and the lead up to their first public gig.

…Also, the episode reveals revealing that Harkuki loves Kaji, that Kaji has a boy friend no one knows about, that Sato is pretty damn good at basket ball, and Uecchi learning that Sato was dating a boy in middle school but that boy may have suddenly killed himself in an extremely tragic way! Appropriate, this last bit of news comes amidst a deafening roar of white noise punctuated by a hard cut to black.

Given remains beautifully rendered, even when it’s being ‘lazy.’ Seriously! The backgrounds and colors and level of unnecessary detail are insane. Episode 5 did take a noticeable dip, but that is to be expected mid season and it didn’t hurt the narrative’s more introspective focus.

I’m really enjoying the idea that Uecchi is the only semi-straight member of the band, yet imperfect knowledge may prevent each member from realizing that. I’m finding it even more interesting to watch Sato, who seems like he’s characterized as having a spectrum disorder in addition to being gay. It makes for some curious takes on his scenes with Uecchi.

Sato strikes me as a sincere representation of a gay male who’s not romantically into the straight male who is pursuing him. He seems aware of that Ueechi may not realize he is even pursuing him, which seems ironically likely since Uecchi resorted to dating advice to get Sato into the band. Now that the sexuality angle is out in the open, we’ll see if Uecchi reconciles with his own obsessive feelings, or if his obsession is purely based in the art of music the way he previously seemed to think it was.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 07 – Meat on the Brain

With the gym closed, the girls decide to take Gina out for a welcome party. Hibiki recommends her brother’s yakiniku (BBQ) restaurant where she works part time. As they chow down, Machio and Satomi hover between them and us, explaining that while beef is a good source of protein for bodybuilders, the cut of meat and even its source determines how much you should eat.

When there’s a slowdown in work, Hibiki takes a load off and tucks into a multi-thousand-calorie meal. Gina believes this is Hibiki’s secret to, among other things, beating her at arm-wrestling: the same ability to consume huge amounts of muscle-building protein as a pro wrestler, only she enjoys doing so! Of course, it’s just Hibiki’s “cheat day,” but she won’t be able to slack off on the other days.

When the others ask why Hibiki has to work five days a week in addition to school and the gym, she says it’s to pay her monthly membership fees and for all the food she eats. Akemi informs her that thanks to her older sister, chairman of the board of their school, gym fees and other training-related expenses are covered by the school! That said, Hibiki still needs to pay for her own food.

While sitting in class and half-paying attention, Gina notices that Satomi has a beauty mark beneath her eye that she’s sure she’s seen before. Sure enough, a quick check of her phone confirms that Satomi is “Yulia Riko”, cosplay sensation. When she tells Satomi that she knows, Satomi assumes Gina wants something in exchange for her silence, as, in Gina’s words, she’s “suspicious of altruism.”

So Gina comes up with a worthy payment: she gets to spend the day with Satomi/Yulia, including a one-on-one photoshoot and sightseeing tour. When Satomi complains of soreness after a nice workout, Gina introduces her to the concept of active rest, which actually helps you recover from fatigue faster than the passive kind (i.e. sitting on your bum and swilling beer). It’s all about aiding circulation of blood (and thus oxygen) throughout the body.

Their active rest for the day takes the form of a brisk but comfortable jog that isn’t overdoing it and enables them to carry on a conversation, all the way to Akihabara. When Satomi hilariously asks the tourist if she’s going there to buy electronics, Gina responds that due to her love of all things Japanese (and a few things that aren’t like Hong Kong and yoga), she’s determined to become an idol…and she’s taking Satomi and her new friends along for the ride.

The public idol audition they end up competing in is judged by a director voiced by Yoshino Hiroyuki (nice cameo!) who is tired of normal-looking girls with a normal level of talent performing normally. That is, until the bikini-clad “Muscle Girls” arrive on stage, riding on the shoulders their burlier fellow gym members. All of a sudden, things are a bit too abnormal for the director…with emphasis on the ab!

Rather than sing, Gina and Ayaka deliver an impressive sparring demonstration, while Hibiki does bench presses with Akemi spotting. Their final act is Satomi, hiding her face behind a kendo mask, performing a perfect deadlift, the toughest and riskiest of the three major barbell exercises.

Despite enthusiastic applause by the crowd, they fail to make the cut…partially because they didn’t sing anything, but also because they were just way too weird. Normal, the director concludes, is fine after all. Too bad; I would have loved to see these guys on tour!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 06 – Getting a Grip

When will Nishikata learn that no amount of training will prepare him for the mind games Takagi plays on him? Not this week, as he revives their gym challenge (which he also lost last year). The thing is, even though he sucks at toe touches and fails the grip test due to imagining he’s holding her hand, Takagi still technically loses. She just gets him to admit defeat before she tells him he has a higher score. Better luck next year, I guess!

With Nishikata’s after-school committee work done and the class camping trip looming, Takagi picks up on his desire to leave school together (even though he doesn’t want it to look like he wants to, she reads his mind) and they practice one-on-one dodgeball. Again, Nishikata’s proficiency with dodging does him no good, as Takagi first tricks him by making him turn his back, then gets into the weeds about whether he’ll dodge or catch, causing him to ask, again and again, “We’re talking about dodgeball, right?”

When the three girls stop at a sweets shop after work for some snacks, a black-and-white cat inexplicably swipes a piece of candy Mina just gave to Yukari after her stomach growled, and the girls give enthusiastic chase through various obstacles. The athletic Sanae is the only one able to keep up, but when she finds the cat giving the snack to three adorable kittens, she gives up and tells the others she lost track of her. Clearly, the mama cat needed it more than Yukari!

Takagi and Nishikata end up at the same sweets shop, where Takagi proceeds to buy the opposite of everything Nishikata picks out, so that they can exchange with each other later. After the dodgeball Nishikata is also hungry, so he buys a cup of noodles to eat in-store, and Takagi does the same. This marks the first time just the two of them are out to eat, which Takagi observes makes it a date—inducing a hot ramen spit take from Nishikata.

He’s confident he can deny to anyone who sees them that they are on a date (i.e. intentionally spending time and sharing a meal together one-on-one), but when his two nerdy friends enter the shop, they slink in, make their purchases, and slink out without saying a word, as if no denial from Nishikata would even matter. They know what they saw!

With that, Takagi expresses her excitement about the coming camping trip, implying it will be yet another new setting for new forms of teasing (i.e. flirting). Kudos to Takagi for finding new ways to expand their interactions despite his outward reluctance, as well as to Nishikata for inwardly admitting it probably was a date they were having then and there.

Cop Craft – 06 – Jump Out If You Want To!

While they’re a formidable duo when they’re on duty, I might just like Tilarna and Kei better when they’re off duty, as it presents so much more opportunity for the two to talk and interact off-the-cuff. And both professionally and personally, they’ve built up a nice rapport. Just take Tilarna using an elixer to eliminate Kei’s cat allergy, but not to tell him about it until he wakes up with Kuroi in his room and is breathing fine.

Even so, things only go so far, and Kei would rather continue to live alone, so he’s trying to find a place for Tilarna, with little success (realtors in San Teresa are apparently racist). And when their leisurely crepe lunch is interrupted by a stolen truck shearing off the side mirror of Kei’s car and he gives spirited chase, Tilarna would kinda rather be anywhere but in the passenger seat, losing years off her presumably otherwise extremely long life.

With a bit of reckless driving, Kei manages to wreck the rig, which is full of…legal porno mags. Tilarna decides to be useful and move Kei’s car out of the flow of traffic, but neglects to set the parking brake, so it rolls right back into traffic, into the grill of another passing truck, and into utter ruin.

Tilarna gets to see a whole new side of Kei at the station; that both of someone who just lost some(thing) precious too them, as well as someone who acts like a little kid who wants their toy when they meet with Chief Zimmer for a new ride. Tilarna also gets her first look at human porn, which is doubly shocking to her considering how little photography exists where she’s from.

Kei gets his colleague Tony to pose as a fence and arrange a deal with the Semanian truck thief, who is indeed trying to make a killing selling the stuff across the gate. One wonders why he didn’t simply buy up a lot of porn legitimately, as there’s no doubt he’d still make a profit re-selling it in Reto Semani. Kei also gets his new car—a repo’d Ferrari 812 Superfast (which costs over $360,000 US) and takes it for a spin while Tilarna meets with Cecil.

Tilarna came to Cecil for driving lessons unaware that “ex” meant “ex-lovers,” something that embarrasses her. When asked, Cecil isn’t sure whether she likes Kei, but she doesn’t hate him, and simply wishes he’d treat her as an equal rather than a kid, hence her desire to learn to drive. Cecil warns her that might be tricky, as there’s a good chance Kei sees a lot of his lively younger sister, whom he lost ten years ago, in Tilarna. They have tended to act like siblings, haven’t they?

The next day, the porn deal goes south when the Semanian kid is double-crossed and Tony is captured at gunpoint. Kei is temporarily blinded by being too close to a gun blast. so Tilarna grabs his hand, tosses him into the passenger seat of the Ferrari, and shows her what she’s learned. (The automotive pedant in me would question whether she’d know how to work the controls of a car so different from the Jeep Cherokee she trained in, but never mind.)

What matters is, Tilarna doesn’t quite drive like anyone else Kei has ever driven with—which is to be expected—and she gets an absolute goddamn kick out of it; a true need for speed! It’s immensely fun to see the tables turned for once, and Kei begging for death and being given the option to jump out the car window. Tilarna launches the F12 like a projectile into the fleeing baddie, wrecking them both.

Thanks to modern automotive safety, nobody is seriously hurt and the perp is arrested. When Kei starts to scold her again, Tilarna speaks up for herself and gains a deserved apology from Kei for going too far about the Mini before. At this point he believes the Ferrari is still reparable, and agrees to go with her on more driving lessons, but it soon bursts into flames, GTA-style, and he’s back to the same blind rage and despair when his Mini was busted.

He eventually cools down, and when he arrives home (by bus) from a meeting with the real estate agent, he finds Tilarna has already made a cozy home for herself on the lower level of his house, and invites him in. Looks like he’s not going to get rid of her so easily…if that’s even what he wants at this point. After all, it’s not every day you get to have your beloved little sis back in the form of a knight from another world!

HenSuki – 06 – The Scent of Destiny

After Keiki rescues her on the stairs, StuCo vice-chair Fujimoto Ayano presents him with a token of her gratitude: some delicious homemade cookies. She also gets very close to Keiki and inhales deeply, which Keiki thinks is a little strange but also pretty cute. He has master stalker Koharu investigate Ayano, and comes up with nothing abnormal aside from a tendency to “gap moe”and of ending up in close-quarters situations with Keiki.

After Yuika accuses Keiki of doing terrible things—in her dream last night—Ayano invites Keiki to a clean-up session in town. Sayuki tags along as his self-appointed dog, and is soon up to mischief when she pounces on him under the bridge. Keiki, remembering what his grandfather said whenever their dog jumped on top of him, rubbing his butt is the way to show the dog who’s boss. It works on Sayuki, who has to withdraw due to overexcitement.

As for Ayano, she seems perfectly nice, neither interested in being Keiki’s slave nor making him her slave, nor writing about him and his best mate getting it on. She’s mostly just…normal. Unfortunately, the other shoe inevitably drops when she invites him to an otherwise empty StuCo office, where she’s adjusted the lighting, music, and accomodations to make Keiki very, very sleepy.

He wakes up to Ayano unzipping his pants, wanting to remove his sweaty underwear. Turns out her fetish is smell; specifically the body odor of boys. All the clues were there with her constant smelling of him and his clothes, but for her to take it to this extreme was still…deflating. Keiki himself imagined he’d finally found someone normal enough to complement his normalcy, after all.

Still, of all of the kinks the girls he’s encountered have had, Ayano’s seems the least egregious. After all, why is it so awful for Keiki if she likes his stink? People who like each other tend to be attracted to each other’s scents anyway. It’s not like she’s asking if she can punish him/if he can punish her. I daresay the ultra-normal girl Keiki says he’s after doesn’t actually exist, at least not at his school. The next best thing, then, is the most tolerable of the “weirdos”.

Vinland Saga – 06 – Engulfed by the Quarrels of Men

On November 13, 1002, King Æthelred II of orders all Danish immigrants in England killed. The Danish respond by sending troops across the sea, and the Vikings—Danish pirates—serve as the “army’s army.” Askeladd’s crew are right in the middle of this.

When English archers ambush their camp, Thorfinn gets a crash course in mass death, killing, and living with it, taking his first life and letting out a cry of vicious despair that carries through the forest, while Askeladd observes in quiet approval.

The battles with the English continue, and Thorfinn continues to kill and gets better at it, with his enemies continually underestimating him due to his size and youth. Askeladd starts using him as a scout, and he manages to kill two foes who come at him, gaining a second dagger with which he dual-wields henceforth.

While on another scouting mission he takes an arrow to the shoulder and washes up on a branch in a river in East Anglia. A kindly, God-fearing mother and her daughter take him in, clean him up, and feed him. The daughter worries (rightfully) that he’s a Dane, their enemy; but her mom doesn’t think any women or children should be bothered with the quarrels of men.

The mother even combs the fleas and lice from Thorfinn’s unruly hair, with the same comb she used to use on her son, who died of a cold two years ago. An English soldier arrives looking for a pint-sized scout, but the mother covers for Finn.

That night, while the daughter continues to argue with her mother about harboring him, Finn abruptly takes his leave, saying just one word to them in English: Run. He then sets a cottage on the beach aflame; the signal to Askeladd to make his landing.

The mother doesn’t run as Finn urged her; she comes to the beach and sees for herself the boy she nursed back to health and harbored: a rabid killing machine. When Finn spots her among the crowd, tears streaming down her cheeks, guilt momentarily washes across his face, as he remembers his own mother and older sister.

Then the mother is simply gobbled up by the charging viking horde, Finn takes a deep breath, and the guilt is replaced by cold detachment as he too gets lost in the crush, joining his fellow fighters in the latest retaliatory raid on a relatively well-off English village. The comb the mother used on him is trod upon and broken, and perhaps with it any possible chance of Thorfinn turning back from his current, blood-soaked path.