Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 04 – Undeath Metal Girls

Sakura does her level best to cheer Junko up, but her head is still out of it, during another musicmaking practice I can’t help but think is far too quaint against the likes of Iron Frill. She doesn’t even realize her hula hoop has fallen to the ground! Shiori’s harsh and under-informed opinions about Franchouchou build on Junko’s building lack of confidence in any scenario without Ai.

If Shiori, the center of the country’s top idol group, says they’re trash, then they must be. But in believing those words, Junko creates artificial limitations. It’s less about Ai being too good for Franchouchou than Junko not being good enough. When Junko and Ai cross paths, Junko asks if Ai enjoyed being in Iron Frill more.

The way Ai responds by asking why Junko is worried about that when she should be worried about the show just rubs Junko the wrong way. For one, Ai doesn’t even attempt to humor or reassure her she’s happy where she is. But that’s less Ai being insensitive to the moment as Junko being hyper-sensitive to anything that confirms her anxieties.

Junko runs off to cry on the beach and scares the shit out of the local cop (who is never not hilarious in his buffoonery). Koutarou, no stranger to wailing at the waves, confronts Junko back at the house, armed with his trusty old red axe. As he creates wind with some sick chords, he considers it to be his lodestar, as as long as it can keep making music, he can keep moving forward.

He sees that Junko is standing still, unsure if she can go forward, and can see the false limitations she—not Ai ort Shiori—created for herself. Handing her the guitar, he tells her if there’s something she really wants—in this case to keep performing with Ai—she has to keep shining, strumming, and moving forward.

The pep talk not only snaps Junko out of her funk, but gives her the idea Franchouchou needs to create the necessary impact tomorrow. True to their tight-knit family cohesiveness, everyone (even Tae!) waited for Junko to sit down before tucking into Yuugiri’s sumptuous pre-concert feast.

They’re all happy Junko looks more focused. The day of the show, Shiori is disappointed to learn Ai isn’t even going to be on stage, because without her Franchouchou is nothing but “a bunch of nobodies.” Of course Shiori is ignorant to the generational talent Koutarou assembled, just as she’s not aware that Number Three is the Eternal Center Mizuno Ai. Regardless, Ai warns her not to underestimate Franchouchou, a group that’s always striving and evolving.

Shiori agrees to give them a chance, and she’s probably glad she did, as we finally get to see the group’s quaint musicmaking pay off. Tae is given a high-end drum set to start things off with a sick solo, followed by Junko on Koutarou’s red Strat. As I had hoped, she decided to draw upon her talent and ability to enchant with a guitar in her hand.

The group’s top two fans are delighted that the Death Metal Girls are back with a spicy, almost Beastie Boys style rock-and-rap number (I’m told it’s more of a piece with the likes of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park).

As usual for the Revenge sequel, both the singing and dancing animation, the lighting effects, the camerawork, and of course the song itself all look and sound fantastic—a serious upgrade over the previous season’s more-than-adequate production values.

I especially liked how Junko finishes the song by smashing Koutarou’s venerable guitar into a million pieces. How’s that for impact?! Her performance moves Ai, watching proudly in the stands, and reminds her of when she’d watch old videos of Junko performing—the very thing that got Ai into the business.

Ai, who at this point understands full well that her resemblance to Frill’s old center wasn’t why Koutarou kept her off the stage. Now that he achieved what he was hoping for, Ai runs to the stage to join her companions. Only it’s quite a leap to manage, and when Junko grabs her arm it starts to come off! When Junko corrects by leaping towards Ai, they both hit the deck hard.

No problem, this just shows Junko that, as zombies, they can deliver a performance living human group never could, by injecting themselves with electricity and literally shining. As they perform a slick autotuned techno remix of “Awaken Returner”, the girls themselves put on a beguiling Tron-like lightshow. Shiori and Yui are suitably impressed, even if they have no idea how such special effects are being done. I don’t either…but they’re cool, so who cares!!

But it’s more than that. Yui told Shiori to be weary of recruiting Number Three due to her resemblance to Mizuno Ai, because as good as Ai was, she’s the past, while Iron Frill is all about the future. But Shiori never stopped being inspired by Ai, just as Ai never stopped being inspired by Junko. Even uif they weren’t secret zombies, Ai and Junko are timeless talents, and AI’s performance transports Shiori back to when she was just a little girl watching Ai on TV.

One of the many, many things Zombieland Saga gets so right is depicting how past generations help shape us. The past isn’t something you can turn your back on and forget about. It’s always there, and it’s why Iron Frill are who they are. Even Yui has someone who inspired her. This is why I believe Shiori decided to give a very particular shout-out to Franchouchou when they appeared on TV for a post-concert interview.

Shiori considers them Iron Frill’s top rival because they let her travel back in time to the genesis of her love of song and dance. That’s hard to do, and she knows she can’t rest on her laurels if she wants to have the same effect on the kids out there who dream of becoming like her, and Ai, and Junko.

Read Crow and Irina’s discussion of episode 4 here!

Horimiya – 05 – Breaking Through the Noise

I knew when Shindo was conveniently blocked out by Miyamura’s head that there would be trouble. Souta spots him with another girl and mentions it to Hori, who is already better but taking another sick day to avoid Miyamura post-his “I love you”.

To hear the words so clearly when she was meant to hear them has had a paralyzing effect, as Hori fears their relationship changing in any way from the lovely way it is. Only her inability to text or even face Miyamura for the next day and a half proves there’s no going back; the relationship has changed. There’s no putting the proverbial toothpaste back in the tube.

In a way, Souta’s extremely vague “other girl” report gives Hori leave to speculate that Miyamura is cheating, thus justifying their distance. But she can’t avoid him forever, and as soon as he has her alone by the lockers, he reiterates that he said he loved her knowing she was still awake.

Hori diverts to talk of the other girl, and Miyamura says it’s just Chika-chan, Shindo’s girlfriend, who was leaning on him because she twisted her ankle (Shindo was leaning from the other side because he too twisted his ankle, which is hilarious).

Hori buys the explanation, but is still angered. Why? Because Miyamura won’t stop saying “Chika-chan”. She throws two books in his face and runs off, but before long he’s at her place, calmly returning the books to her in case she had homework that night.

But Because this is Horimiya and not a lesser romantic show that would drag this conflict out over an episode or more for cheap drama, Hori interrupts Miyamura’s apology with her own for the misunderstanding. The awkwardness and tension fades away, and they return to being soothing presences in each other’s lives.

As they share a chair, Hori confirms she was awake when he confessed…which comes as no surprise to him. He apologizes again for springing something like that on her then running away, as he was more scared of how she’d respond than whether she would.

I wish they had more time in this moment to talk more, but they’re suddenly interrupted…by Hori’s dad, Kyousuke. She calls him by his name rather than “dad”, perhaps because he’s a total man-child, but he takes an instant liking to Miyamura, and—this is key—when he asks his daughter if he’s her boyfriend, Hori steps up to the plate and says “yeah, got a problem with that?!”

This, more than anything else Hori says or any other look she gives him, seems to affect Miyamura most powerfully. Just as he blurted out a confession not once but twice in the midst of a bunch of mundane conversation, Hori takes a page out of his book and essentially gives him a response to his confession by telling her dad he’s her boyfriend.

When their mom comes home and is worried not by Kyousuke’s presence, but the fact they won’t have enough dinner (though didn’t Hori just feed her dad?), Miyamura takes himself out of the equation so the whole Hori fam can eat together. Hori walks him home, apologizes for how annoying Kyousuke is, and casually starts holding Miyamura’s hand, blushing all the way.

Miyamura weaves his fingers into hers and they walk like this, affirming their desire to learn more about each other little by little. When they release to part ways, Miyamura takes her arm once more and thanks her, both for being her and for what she told her dad. When Miyamura texts Tooru about these developments, Tooru allows himself to despair a bit over losing to him.

The skies aren’t all cloudy for Tooru, however, as he has the normally serious and highly capable Kouno Sakura going into a daze while admiring him from inside the school. Remi notices Sakura’s uncharacteristic behavior and asks what’s up, but when Sakura sees Remi, she sees someone who is cute—unlike her—and so wouldn’t understand what’s bothering her. Remi, in turn, is bothered by that assertion.

Remi and Sakura have been nicknamed “Beauty and the Beast”, and that label has clearly affected Sakura’s self-esteem. She’s always stayed in her lane, but now that she has a crush on Tooru, she finds herself changing. It’s in the brief time after she ran away from Remi Sakura realizes that having “Beauty as a best friend” is more blessing than curse. When she next sees Remi, she tells her about her crush. Remi notes that Sakura is making a blushing face she’s never seen before…and it’s very cute.

Of course, Tooru is still 100% oblivious to Sakura’s feelings, but that’s not entirely his fault; he’s still feeling the sting of Hori’s rejection compounded with the fact that Miyamura and Hori are all but officially an couple. Still, Tooru doesn’t want things to get awkward, and insists to Miyamura not to worry about it. His pain is his to bear, and he’ll get over it.

The episode closes with another lovely cozy moment with Miyamura and Hori studying. Hori suddenly says “Izumi-kun”, and MIyamura assumes she’s calling him by his first name. Turns out it’s just Souta’s friend’s last name, but the truth is Miyamura would like her to call him by his first name.

She tries it, but amends it with a Baka, then descends into a baka spiral just as Souta comes home, causing his friend Izumi to ask if his family’s okay. Trust me, it’s just fine, kid! As for Miyamura, I’d advise him to start calling Hori Kyouko if he wants her to call him Izumi!

Hanebado! – 09 – Turnabout is Fair Play

Ayano and Nagisa’s preparations for their finals match are interrupted by the inauspiciously conspicuous return of Connie Christensen, who wants a rematch with Ayano. Ayano, who as we know is not the same Ayano Connie embarrassed the last time they crossed, stays cordial, but her first words to Connie—that her panties are showing—demonstrate how unseriously Ayano is taking her.

Ayano’s attention turns to her broken Wei-Wei mascot on her bag, and Shiwahime invites her to a kind of Wei-Wei theme park with Connie (Erena also tags along). The Wei-Wei-ness is like catnip to Ayano, who switches off Badminton Mode and has a lot of fun for once, to the relief of Erena. Meanwhile, Shiwahime inadvertently sabotages Connie’s olive branch to Ayano in the form of a Wei-Wei keychain.

It turns out Connie didn’t return for a rematch at all; she came to express her desire to be a family with Ayano and her mother Uchika. When Connie finally gets the words out, Ayano completely brushes them off, and affably leads Connie to a badminton court, where her first devastating shot sends a clear message that it won’t be a friendly match.

We see more of the perennially lonely Connie’s past when Uchika takes her under her wing and essentially adopts her, while all the while Connie’s knowledge of the existence of a “big sister” who is Uchika’s biological daughter looms over her as a kind of challenge to clear. She wants the acknowledgement of both Uchika—who never once told Connie she was better than Ayano—and Ayano herself.

She doesn’t get it, and I’d argue she doesn’t really deserve it after how she entered Ayano’s life. Sure, Connie thought Ayano was playing mind games with her when they first met, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ayano sought a friendship in good faith, unaware of Connie’s identity.

That being said, Ayano lays the contempt on a little thick, as she essentially transforms into a Badminton Youkai, all crazy eyes and twisted smirks, in utterly rejecting Connie on the grounds she’s resolved to abandon her mom the way she abandoned her.

While Ayano refuses to forgive and forget or turn the other cheek, a dejected Connie returns home with Shiwahime to find the rest of her team has done all three, giving her emotional support when she’s never felt lower. Sorry, Hanebado, but this whole “actually Connie is the victim now, let’s all feel bad for her” isn’t quite working for me.

Who has two thumbs and doesn’t care about Yu’s attempts to get one of the male players to notice her? [holds up two thumbs] This guy. Also, I’m not confident Nagisa practicing until her knees give out is the best strategy for having a good match against Ayano. If Ayano doesn’t clean her clock I’ll be very surprised.

What could turn the tables slightly in Nagisa’s favor is the fact that Ayano returns home to find her mother, big stupid hair bow and all, waiting there to greet her like nothing’s happened. However unpleasant a character Connie may be, she’s no match for the awfulness that is Hanesaki Uchika, Ten-Time Worst Mother of the Year.