My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 02 – Youthful Indiscretion

This week our step-couple encounter their first friends, who come to them completely unbidden. Mizuto immediately pegs Kawanami Kogure as a player just trying to use him to get to Yume, but Kawanami assures him he just wants a mate. Minami Akatsuki approaches Yume during physical tests and spends perhaps too much time comparing bust sizes.

Despite being even littler than Yume, Minami is a decent athlete, which only prompts the “reinvented” Yume to try even harder at the various athletic tests. She ends up wearing herself out, but before she falls Mizuto is right there to catch her. In the nurse’s office, Yume comes clean about not being the most athletic person, and Minami is actually a little relieved, as Yume isn’t as perfect and unapproachable as she feared.

The second half of the episode is Yume’s Dizzy Fever Day, and Minami insists on visiting her new friend at her house to make some rice porridge, escorted, of course, by Mizuto. Apparently, when Yume has a fever she “travels to the past”, since she calls Mizuto “Irido-kun” and tells him she felt lonely when he left her side.

As Mizuto and Minami cook in the kitchen, Minami lets on that she knows Mizuto had a girlfriend, despite his aloof attitude, and may even have deduced that Yume was his girlfriend. As such, she asks him what would happen if he got another girlfriend.

After Minami feeds Yume in bed, possibly fulfilling a number of lifelong dreams, she then departs, leaving Mizuto and Minami alone together. Yume’s first comments upon his return are “look at you, in the kitchen with Minami”, but he says Minami is just outgoing, able to get along with anyone, even the likes of him.

Yume brings up a time when they dated when he let go of her hand while she was sick in bed, and wants to hold Mizuto’s hand again. In her feverish, vulnerable state, it’s only natural to want to embrace the familiar and nostalgic. She even gets Mizuto to provide a monologue about the time between the seventh and eighth grades when they dated, ending when “trivial disagreements piled up”.

I have to say, that doesn’t sound like the kind of horrible rancor that would keep these two apart forevermore, especially when Yume pretends to still have a fever long after it’s passed so Mizuto will keep pampering her (which is extremely cute). Even when he finds out and feigns anger, he lets it slide.

More than anything, Yume doesn’t want Mizuto to “leave her behind”. He assures her he’ll “stick around” since they’re siblings now, but as Minami gleaned, they’re more than just that. With their history, they can’t not be.

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 05 – Win-Win

When Aharen tells Raidou about a Pokemon Go-style mobile game that was launched seven years ago like it’s a new trend, he dusts off his maxed-out Yankee Godzilla character, believing her tiny, harmless-looking Shirorin will be no match against him. He’s eager to score a win against Aharen, but instead he gets stomped. It’s the classic Cactuar Conundrum: tiny and cute doesn’t automatically spell weak.

We’ve seen how strong Aharen is in the crane game department, so when Futaba spends almost all her pocket change in vain trying to win a Yankee Godzilla doll, Aharen proceeds to win nine of them. I don’t think she’s trying to show up a kid; merely show her how it’s done. She even leaves a gimme right near the out spout for Futaba to win with her last 100-yen coin.

The next segment is one of those that crops up often in a 4-panel comic: where one character changes dramatically—in this case Raidou becoming overweight overnight. When it dawns on Aharen it could be her fault for feeding him so much of her massive lunches, she reads up on dieting, hoping to help him.

But when Raidou spots her with the diet book, he assumes she’s trying to diet, something he doesn’t think is necessary, so he decides to lead by example and show her that exercise, not dieting, is the key to success. He loses all the weight he gained, only to learn Aharen never had any intention of dieting…but will surely consider leaner lunches in future!

The re-slimmed Raidou is in trouble; if he fails the midterms he’ll have to take supplementary classes. To avoid this, he proposes that he and Aharen study together, assuming from her serene demeanor that she’s already fully prepared to do well in the exams.

The two try a number of different venues for their studying, but be it the library, a restaurant, or the park, they find themselves distracted by something and can’t study. Ultimately, the classroom turns out to be the ideal spot for studying, with their desks pushed together as usual.

When Aharen, Raidou, and two classmates have after-school cleaning duty, Raidou marvels at how seriously Aharen takes this. She’s so professional in her cleaning, his vivid imagination starts to wonder if she’s also a cleaner, i.e. an assassin. She certainly seems to have a cool head for it…

After the other two kids leave, Aharen tries to move a dusted bookshelf back where it belongs, only to lose her balance and almost have it fall on her. Raidou exhibits catlike reflexes by rushing to Aharen’s rescue. Later, they continue studying, and Raidou thanks her for helping him with studying. Aharen’s response is so quiet even his trained ears can’t hear…

…So she draws closer to him and gathers him into a long, warm, affectionate hug. She expresses her happiness at being able to finally help Raidou, after all this time she’s caused trouble and relied upon him. Raidou’s response is as expected: he’s never once thought she was trouble, and he relies on her too, so he thanks her in return.

It’s easily the swetest and most romantic things have ever gotten between these two. So many anime couples have trouble communicating, but these two are crystal clear in how they feel about one another, and aren’t even embarrassed to walk about arm-in-arm or to share such a long hug.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 05 – Old Age Having a Go at Youth

Having seen where Menou came from and who trained her, it’s entirely possible her bonhomie is merely a carefully practiced act. Hell, even her sense of style, which Akari admires, was developed as one more arrow in her executioner’s quiver. But gosh darn it all if she and Akari have the most adorable date in Garm on the eve of Akari’s ethering.

I honestly didn’t know why so much attention was spent on Menou delegating her investigation mission to Momo, but now we know: because as Menou skips around town with Akari, Momo is scouring Garm’s massive underground tunnel network. There, she not only finds forbidden Faust tech under the Noblesse royal palace, she also finds Ashuna, who is conducting an investigation of her own.

Ashuna and Momo’s dynamic continues to get better and better, especially here where they don’t take up arms against each other but simply co-exist as two people with a shared goal: uncovering the truth, whatever it is. Meanwhile, the absolute truth that Menou feels nothing for Akari starts to show its cracks the closer they get to zero hour in the creepily white ceremonial hall.

As the apparent magecraft to eliminate Akari starts up, Menou’s scripture lights up, indicating a call from Momo. Momo, along with Ashuna, have already discovered that there are Faust conspiring with the Noblesse for some dark purpose. Menou is just a little too late to realize it, for Orwell is right beside her when she does, and she can tell Menou’s figured out she’s doin’ some dirt.

So no sooner does Menou know than Orwell knows she knows, and after that, Menou finds herself in a hopelessly lopsided battle against the Archbishop of the Faust. Her most powerful attack is leisurely swatted away by Orwell, who then unleashes a terrifying counterattack that destroys Menou’s book. She tosses it at Orwell like a bomb, but ends up falling through the hole Orwell makes below her, leaving Akari on her own against eight priestesses.

Orwell follows Menou to the space below the hall, where Menou finds all of the missing women who have literally had the life and vitality sucked out of them. Orwell’s face game is epic, as she gives her bad guy speech about how she’s sick of helping people and wants something in return: her youth back. She’s planning on using Akari’s Pure Concept to make that happen, and was willing to conspire with the Noblesse to do so.

The scripture-less Menou is probably already toast in a one-on-one battle with Orwell, but Orewell still decides to make it interesting by summoning a red automa in angel form to do her dirty work. It’s not just Akari she wants for her Pure Concept, but Menou she wants as a catalyst, revealing she’s played the long game for ten years.

The title of the episode is “Goodbye”, but it’s not about Menou saying goodbye to Akari. It’s about her saying goodbye to the righteous life she thought she was living. With Orwell not just turning heel, but having been a heel all along, the bottom has dropped out from Menou’s world. She and Akari are down, but they’re not out…not as long as Momo and Ashuna are still out and about.

In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki – 03 – Adversity is the Greatest Uniter

Tsubaki is almost at the end of her kusari-fundo regarding the near-constant bickering between Sazanka and Asagao. That’s when Uikyou and Kikyou, the polar opposite of that pair, show up. Their speech and movements are so in sync, they might well be identical twins. They also offer the secret to getting along in scroll form.

The only catch? The scroll has to be taken from them. Tsubaki makes things interesting by tying Sazanka and Asagao together by the leg so they have no choice but to work together against their far-better coordinated opponents. Uikyou and Kikyou have no trouble slipping out of their grasp and making them look foolish.

Ultimately, Sazanka and Asagao stop arguing and start doing something that will help their odds. That means Sazanka clinging to the larger, stronger Asagao so the latter can move freely without worrying about the rope. Alas, the twins use sleep bell jutsu, and the two have to punch each other to stay awake.

In their dreams, it works, and they manage to defeat the twins. But in reality, they fell asleep despite all the pinching. Nevertheless, the twins report to Tsubaki that they worked hard, and together, while also admitting the scroll containing the secret to getting allong was blank. Ultimately, the only ket to getting along is practice, like any other skill.

In the second half, Hana-senpai is fed up with the girls constantly making fun of men. She cancels classes and announces that there will be a game of tag. She’ll be “it” an will play the role of a male, while anyone she catches will go without dinner. Every girl knows they’re no match for Hana, so the exercise seems to pay immediate dividends.

Hana is able to catch just about every girl, and when an overconfident Benisumomo comes straight at her, she reminds her of the still yawning gap of ability between them. After seeing Beni and Tsubaki fight on pretty much equal ground, Hana is on a totally different level…which makes you wonder why she fears males so much and insists the others do the same.

Whiel Asagao quickly falls victim to an all-too-easy caveman meat trap, Tsubaki has a plan for defeating Hana. It involves Sazanka using transformation jutsu to let Hana’s guard down. When Hana notices Sazanka’s imitation of her fellow teacher Konoha is not quite right, Sazanka is captured by the “real” Konoha…but that’s really Tsubaki in disguise.

Because Tsubaki’s transformation jutsu is far more convincing, Hana speaks to her as if she were speaking to the real Konoha, and lets slip that the men being scary is merely a lie they must uphold at all costs. Tsubaki is so shocked by this she transforms back into her normal form and darts away.

When Hana tries to give chase, her bad back starts barking at her, and the real real Konoha comes to help her. Hana tells her to find Tsubaki, who heard something she shouldn’t have, and is now all mixed up.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 04 – The Only Bad Guy

You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy’.—Tony Montana

As Akari naps on her shoulder, Menou reflects on how she got to this point, on a train to the execution of what seems like a perfectly ordinary and nice young woman but for her potential to end the world with her unchecked powers of time manipulation.

We’ve seen where Menou’s old life ended and where Flare found her; a haunting blanched world of pure white destruction. The first half of this episode expounds upon that scene, and how the landscape was very much reflecting Menou’s own state at that time: a blanched, blank slate.

Like Fushi in To Your Eternitythis Menou didn’t feel anything; she was simply there…until Orwell assigned Flare to look after her. Her first words to Flare were “who are you?” which might as well been a question to herself. Flare’s response, that she’s a “pure, just and strong” priestess, is delivered with a villainously twisted face and dripping with sarcasm Menou takes at face value.

Menou came to learn that Flare was an executioner of otherworlders and other enemies of the Faust, and is eventually taken to an entire continent of nothing but salt slowly dissolving into the sea, the result of one of the Four Human Errors. Upon learning the solemn duty of people like Flare, Menou decided on the spot that she wanted to be one of those people.

To this request, Flare warns Menou that executioners like her are little more than villains to be loathed and discarded when at the end of their usefulness, someone willing to do anything to anyone, good or bad, man or woman, in order to keep the world safe. Someone strong, but bereft of purity or justice. A tool.

When Menou says she wants to be one anyway, Flare takes her to a monastery to train with other young girls. They learn how to fight and kill, and also learn about the otherworlders and how they influenced this world and threatened its very existence at least four times in history. The iconography on display in the classroom is wonderfully dark and medieval.

It’s here where Menou learns that she must “speak of friendship, whisper words of love, be dirty and underhanded” in order to kill one’s targets. She also meets the younger Momo, who like some other girls is not taking the indoctrination into merciless killing machines smoothly. Menou comes to Flare, who seems to be sleeping uneasily in her dark and musty chambers.

There, Menou asks her to make her “the only bad person” so the girls who don’t want to don’t have to be. It’s clear their hesitance is a result of past experiences Menou no longer has due to the calamity she survived. Flare proceeds to evaulated Menou’s strengths and weaknesses, adding up to a “slightly below average” candidate for such a role.

Then Menou surprises Flare (something I’m sure doens’t happen often) by  taking her face in her little hands and asking her not to make her like her, but to make her her. A little Flare. A Flarette.

Flare, long ago resigned to her fate as a loathsome villain who will never find vindication or peace, is half-lamenting and half-admiring in stating that a “twisted personality” has emerged from Menou’s “blanched out soul”, and that one day she’ll surpass her when all of it is destroyed by happiness and she still survives.

That segues nicely into the present, with Akari waking up from her nap to see Garm growing larger through the window. She’s too distracted by the big shiny capital city to noticed Menou’s pained expressions, the result of having time to herself to reflect on her past and present. Flare knew Menou would come to this point, when happiness threatened to destroy the villain she’d become.

Menou promises to go on a sightseeing date with Akari, but they first pay a visit to the Faust cathedral (which is right next to the Noblesse’s fortress…keep your enemies close). The ceremonial hall that will “take Akari home” is there, and Akari meets Archbishop Orwell, who says the hall will be ready in two days.

Akari is apologetic and appreciative, the only person not in on what is really going on. Orwell plays the role of kindly grandmother figure to a T, while Menou does not flinch in the presence of this deeply upsetting charade. She also agres to take on a side job for Orwell investigating missing women in the city in exchange for funds for taking the pilgrimage route once her business in Garm is finished.

The fact that this job conflicts with the promise Menou made to Akari to go sightseeing together, and also looks ahead to the time when Akari is back “home”, irks Akari to no end, and she makes her anger plain once the two are set up in a fancy hotel room. She storms back inside to take a bath, slamming the door behind her.

Menou is seemingly taken aback by Akari’s anger, forgetting that while she’s always kept a professional remove due to her ultimate mission to eliminate her, Akari considers Menou a friend, and for Menou to treat her like a “stranger who will be gone soon” truly hurts, even if Akari is being a little immature about it.

While Akari bathes, she has a chance to reflect on how she reacted, and concludes she was indeed too harsh on Menou, who has many responsibilities to juggle. To whit, while she’s in the bath Menou meets with Momo on the balcony, and basically delegates the investigation job to her.

As she was on the train, Momo is obedient to the big sister she loves more than anything, but also very weary of Menou’s continued interactions with someone she deems an extremely dangerous otherworlder. Menou laments forcing “the messy stuff” on Momo’s plate, but still does it, because she needs and wants to keep Akari happy.

Upon going back into the room, Akari meets her there, having emerged from the bath in a towel, and apologizes for how she acted, saying she’ll sightsee on her own while Menou takes care of her duties. Menou in turn says their sightseeing date is back on, and Akari embraces her, loing her towel in the process.

As much as Akari may like Menou, the fact of the matter is she’s being lied to, and proverbial knives are being sharpened for her demise, not her return to Japan. Menou is using their nascent friendship to keep Akari docile and content until the knife can be slipped in. It’s heartbreaking, compelling character drama.

Next week’s episode is titled “Goodbye”. Will it mark the departure of Akari, or Menou’s departure from villainy? Judging from her past, the latter seems more likely. But then again, she’s never met an otherworlder quite like Akari.

In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki – 02 – Three Dogs, Three Sheep, a Duel and Double Meat

The repetitive conjecture about otoko (i.e., males) so prevalent in the opener is entirely absent here, with one half focusing on a Dog v. Sheep combat training. Tachiaoi invited Tsubaki to join them first, but cocky Team Sheep leader Benisumomo insists on taking Team Dog on. But Sheep member Touwata, obsessed with hard work and willpower, thinks her leader Beni is relying to much on her talen

Her concern leads her to parlay with Team Dog for Tsubaki to give Beni a “good thrashing” in hopes it will convince her to start working harder. Tsubaki agrees, and in the meantime Sazanka and Asagao break the parlay by capturing Touwata, only for both of them to get caught in Sheep’s trap expert Mizubahou’s rope net (a net she’d only set up due to habit!).

You immediately get the feeling Tsubaki is only humoring the younger Touwata, and sure enough, Tsubaki is one of the only people who knows that Benisumomo’s cool lazy act is just that: an act. In reality, Beni works her ass off and always has. She just worries that if anyone else knew her secret it would harm her carefully maintained rep.

After a friendly greeting, Tsubaki and Beni get down to business. It’s clear from their sparring that these are indeed two of the most talented kunoichi in the village, and their jumps, flips, feints, kicks, and punches comprise a beautiful, deadly dance. The two flow like water until breathing flame one another, creating a big boom that draws their kohai rush to the scene. Tsubaki and Beni say they came to a draw, but Beni promises Touwata that she’ll win next time.

In the second segment, Sazanka wants more of Tsubaki’s attention but the two are in different huts for their respective classes. But Tsubaki has apparently been more distracted because of otoko of late (though you wouldn’t know it from this episode). So Tsubaki sneaks out of class through the bathroom, telling Asagao to stay put and cover for her. Before long Asagao is threatened with no dinner and instructed to catch Sazanka at all costs.

While glancing out the window in class, Tsubaki spots her kohais playing hooky and intercepts them. I love how Sazanka rushes at her big sis only to catch nothing but air as Tsubaki flips over her while tying her up in one lovely acrobatic flourish. But when asked directly why she snuck out of class, Sazanka surprises Asagao by not giving the true reason, not wanting Tsubaki to feel like this was her fault for neglecting her kohai.

Tsubaki, however, is as wise as she is strong, and knows Sazanka was lying about simply wanting to go for a walk in the nice weather. So she keeps the camellias Sazanka picked for her (symbolizing love, natch), and makes sure to give her some love later. Sazanka makes good on her promise to give Asagao all of her meat, and Tsubaki shares half of hers with Sazanka.

From the friendly but intense competition between Tsubaki and Benisumomo, to the similar dynamic between the two older girls’ eager kohais, to the sisterly affection that surrounds both Team Dog and the Akane community as a whole, this episode was a compelling slice of kunoichi life.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 03 – All Things Strong and Beautiful

First, kudos must be dispensed to the OP and theme “Paper Bouquet” by Mili, which absolutely slaps. Second, kudos to the cool head and hewn granite abs of Princes Ashuna (MAO in a non-cutesy voice for once), who doesn’t flinch when a band of terrorists attempt to take her hostage.

The muscle princess is naturally on the same train as Menou and Akari, who also have to deal with the terrorists. One of them orders Menou (at etheric gunpoint) to strip, revealing any hidden weapons. To Menou’s shock Akari not only comes between them, but offers to strip in Menou’s place, protecting not only her person but her virtue as well.

Naturally, these thugs are no match for an established priestess like Menou. Momo, stashed a few cars back from them, makes similarly quick work of the terrorists before encountering Ashuna on the roof of the speeding train, also having no problem dispatching them.

Momo and Ashuna, not just a bodybuilder but a knight in her own right, proceed to exchange semi-cordial shit talk, complimenting each other’s strength, beauty, and fashion. Then, because Ashuna’s dad is on trial for heresy, she decides to go toe-to-toe with a Faust.

Their fight is marvelously epic and badass, but Menou’s got shit going on too. Turns out all of the terrorists swallowed red gems. This means once activated the gems consume the bodies in which they reside, then combine to form a summoned golem, in this case a red knight. Because Menou fights this knight in the engine room, the etheric engine is naturally damaged, causing the train to go out of control.

The extra speed doesn’t faze either Ashuna or Momo. Ashuna is enjoying the fight while Momo, still a novice but a Faust novice, laments how big of a hassle this “crappy little princess” has become. Momo turns her garrote-like saw blade into a humming sword, then a boomerang, which she uses to shoot some branches and twigs at Ashuna’s front, leaving her back wide open. Unfortunately for Momo, Ashuna manages to grab her and both are thrown from the train.

Menou’s fight with the red knight golem (such a cool concept btw) is complicated further by the arrival of Akari, whom Menou told to be a “good girl” but who thinks she is being a good girl by worrying about her new friend. Unwilling to find out what happens if the red knight swallowed up Akari (and her powers), Menou uses more ether than she’d like to defeat it quickly.

It should be noted that during both her battle with the knight and Ashuna and Momo’s duel, all three women experience a funky time shift of some kind. This almost certainly means Akari either consciously or unconsciously activated her time powers.

While the red knight is history, the train is still runaway and they’re nearing a station where another train is parked. With insufficient ether to stop it, Menou takes Akari by the hand and asks if she can borrow some of hers, something that normally wouldn’t be allowed…but her options are limited.

The yuri undertones of this scenario and Menou’s proposal are all too clear already, but become even more explicit when Menou actually borrows Akari’s seemingly bottomless stores of ether to bring the train to a stop. Menou mentions how she’s “lost most of herself a long time ago”, which means whenever she shares or combines ether with another, it causes a great deal of pain.

But while it may be painful for Menou, it merely tickles for Akari, who makes a few noises that could be construed as suggestive in addition to calling out Menou’s name during their, er, “ether transfer.” I apologize here as I’m not trying to make this seem hornier than presented (it’s actually presented quite matter-of-factly)—but Menou and Akari clearly share and go through something here.

The result of that something is that the train comes to a halt a mere inch from the stopped train. Somewhere in the woods Ashuna and Momo continue to spar, but thanks to Akari, Menou was able to save all of the innocent people on the train and deal with the terrorist threat. You have to think that with all of their wholesome interactions and Akari’s inherent goodness, at some point Menou has to start questioning her duty to execute her.

That’s not just true because Menou stood between her and a terrorist and offered to strip in her place, or give the little girl on the train courage to tough out the ordeal, or lent her the power to save everyone using a semi-taboo practice. No, what Menou contemplates—and which is vividly dramatized—is what really went down on that train before the day was saved.

Did the train actually crash in a timeline, killing everyone, and then Akari’s  time magic kicked in, rewinding things to before the point of no return? If so, how many times did Akari die and time reverse to get the right set of conditions for the train to be stopped safely? Like Menou, I can’t help but shudder to think, but it’s also fascinating to think about.

It’s a rare episode that can pull of so many cool concepts and action set pieces and still hold together beautifully thanks to skilled direction and pacing. It always helps move an episode along when it’s a train, but the technology, tactics, and emotions behind the characters were firing on all etheric cylinders here. I’m tempted to go back and immediately re-watch it, so thrilled I was by this ride. Time magic, indeed.

P.S. Somehow, the ED theme “Touka Serenade” by ChouCho kicks just as much ass, if not more, than the OP.

Love of Kill – 01 (First Impressions) – With a Song in Her Heart

Bounty Hunter Chateau Dankworth (Oonishi Saori) comes afoul of a killer more skilled than she: Song Ryang-ha (Shimono Hiro). He overpowers her, but it’s not her life he wants to steal; it’s her heart. So he lets her go in exchange for her name and number.

While Chateau’s options were limited that night, she quickly comes to regret the one she chose. Song proceeds to constantly text, call, and even send her a video of a target of hers he caught first, and is willing to offer her in a trade.

They meet at a juice bar Song digs, but as you’d expect, Chateau wants to get down to cold, logical business, not juice. Her gambit involves surprising and then stunning him with a taser, but he’s to quick, and almost seems to predict her movements. It’s gotta be frustrating for a skilled killer like Chateau to more than meet her match.

Song’s terms for giving her her target are nothing monetary. Rather, he wants to go on a date with her for Christmas Eve. Chateau, who distrusts anything free but can’t pass up the opportunity to cross a name off her list, goes along with it, showing up an hour late doing the bare minimum needed for their encounter to be interpreted as a “date”.

Song takes thing to a fancy hotel room with a gorgeous city view, complete with dinner and a 1982-vintage wine. Chateau wisely remains at a remove, wondering out loud how Song plans to “use her” and why she’d be “of interest” to him. To Song’s credit, he doesn’t try anything truly vile, and when Chateau wants to leave, they check out.

Before parting ways at the station, Song does get in a quick farewell hug to “confirm” something: her “scent” doesn’t bother him, while everyone else smells “putrid”. We end with a cryptic voiceover portending a “final stop” in their romance “ending in tears”, then a flashback to a young Chateau in the back of a car, presumably her parent murdered in the driver’s seat.

Love of Kill had me feeling a lot of things. Contempt for Song, mostly, and sympathy for Chateau, who couldn’t escape his clutches if she tried. I love stoic, logical characters like Chateau; even though she doesn’t really say or do much, she exudes a wonderfully cool detached aura, which makes Song’s stalking that much more upsetting.

The thing is, as someone rather desensitized to antiheroes (Soprano, White, Draper, and Dexter to name a few), I didn’t despise Song, and even kinda sorta came to understand why he decided to pursue Chateau with such gusto. If everyone in the world “smelled” terrible to you and made you sick, what would you do if you suddenly found someone who didn’t?

So far I can’t really see Chateau falling for this guy, but at the very least they seem to be kindred spirits: killers keeping themselves at an expansive remove from the rest of humanity. Regardless, I definitely want to see where this goes.

Shin no Nakama – 13 (Fin) – Warm Milk with Honey

Last week certainly ended about as distressingly as it could, what with a sword-hypnotized Ruti having just gravely, possibly mortally wounded Tisse and looking for her next target. So I was both surprised and satisfied with Red’s elegant solution: getting Ruti’s sword caught in his butter-soft bronze sword and flinging it away, thus snapping his sister out of it.

Could the solution have been more difficult and drawn out? Absolutely, but more action would have taken time away from the emotional fallout of what had just transpired. Instead, the awakened Ruti sees her only real friend with a gaping wound and can’t do anything about it; her Hero’s Blessing ignoring her call. Thankfully, Theodora has the power to heal Tisse.

Theodora doesn’t ask Ruti or anyone else for forgiveness, because she was doing both what she thought was right and what her own blessing demanded. However, recent events opened her eyes to the cruelty and crushing loneliness of an unwilling Ruti’s Hero Blessing, and she that even if Red hadn’t left, she simply didn’t need a party anymore. I have to concur with everyone else that Theodora would make a better hero, because it’s what she wants.

Turns out Ruti’s new Blessing is called “New Truth”, with a skill called “Ruler” she’s using to suppress the Hero’s Blessing, losing its boons along with its burdens but in the exchange, becoming the ordinary girl with free will to choose her own future. Feeling the cold and sneezing from it is an amazing new experience; Ruti even looks forward to her first cold! I can’t tell you how cute that is, or how lovely it is to see her finally enjoy being able to taste food again.

After so much excitement earlier in her life, she seems to want the same thing as her brother: a slow, quiet life. In her case, that means starting a farm that grows medicinal herbs, thereby not only doing what she wants, but doing it in part to help contribute to Red and Rit’s business. Naturally, Tisse will be by her side the whole way, supporting her, because Tisse is unassailably The Best…as is Mr. Crawly Wawly.

Before heading off with Tisse to find some suitable farmland, Ruti joins the others at Ares’ funeral. It’s to the credit of this mild-mannered and decent series that he doesn’t suffer eternal agony; indeed he is someone to be pitied and not hated, for his plight wasn’t much different from Ruti’s. The fact the First Hero had six swords lends credence to the possibility they were an Asura Demon—with no blessing, which means they were a hero by their own free will.

The episode’s title is “Guide”, referring to Red’s Blessing, which I’d honestly forgotten until it was brought up several times this week. After Gonz and Mido help Red and Rit fix and clean up their shop and home, Rit confesses to often freaking out at night, worried Red won’t be by her side when she wakes up, because he’s the Guide, and one day he may have to guide someone else. Red assures her that won’t happen; that his journey has ended, and that she is his one, only, final destination, because he needs and loves her as much as she does him.

“Really? Then prove it!”, one might ask. Well, they proceed to do just that. After some adorable awkward fumbling attempts at foreplay, Red and Rit disrobe, hop into their big, newly-repaired bed, and make love for the first time. As one would expect of this show, it’s handled gently and tastefully. They even have a bit of profound post-coitus pillow talk, as Red admits his previous journey may be over, but he’s looking forward to a new one with Rit and the family they’ll have in the future.

Such is the narrative efficiency of this episode (without feeling rushed at all like a couple of previous episodes), we still have time for Red to take Ruti on a tour of Zoltan’s sights, sounds, and tastes. Thanks to New Truth she’s able to experience so much that feels like the first time, and is simply grateful she can be with her brother like old times…and sleep! Red promises he’ll always be there for her.

This leads to a potentially cliché scene where Ruti sits down next to Red at the shop (because she’s tired…and appreciates how good it feels to sit down when you’re tired!) and gloms onto her dear brother. Rit, suddenly jealous, proceeds to grab Red’s other arm. The two glare and growl at each other…and then break into laughter, all while a bemused Tisse watches.

Suddenly, the guild girl arrives at the shop to report an emergency: some demons have captured the adventurers sent to deal with them. She doesn’t need the Hero, just a hero, which Ruti proves she is regardless of Blessing when she picks up her sword and goes with the guild girl…because it’s what she wants to do.

This was pretty much a pitch perfect finale and the perfect way to end the series: by giving me what brought me to keep watching in the first place: a warm, cozy, almost iyashikei atmosphere to an isekai setting. I now appreciate the more action and plot-oriented penultimate episodes more knowing they were meant to make us long for the slow life, just like Red, Rit, Ruti, Tisse, and Mr. Crawly Wawly.

If they make another season of this mug of warm milk with honey in anime form, I’ll watch it in a slow heartbeat. The post-credit scene with Yarandrala and Godwin hints that that’s the plan.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 12 (Fin) – Spring at the Latest

Not entirely surprisingly considering the pace of the storytelling so far, there is no miracle insta-cure for Bocchan’s curse this week. Instead, he heeds his mother’s summons and comes home for the first time in years. Upon meeting with his mother after all that time, she simply tells him it’s too late and they’ll talk tomorrow. Viola and Walter assure their bro that Mom was actually being “kind” tonight.

Thankfully for Bocchan, Alice tags along for his awkward trip to the main house, and is an immediate hit with the house staff, who are amazed what a spitting image of her dearly departed mother Sharon she’s become. Bocchan’s mom even mistakes Alice for Sharon, with whom she was very close and was never the same after her death by as-yet unexplained circumstances.

Bocchan’s mom may be too tired to talk late at night, but Alice is delighted when Bocchan stops by to chat. Alice assures him the staff treated her kindly, and she’s very happy to hear Bocchan was able to speak to his mother normally, even if briefly. When it looks like Alice is dangerously close to touching his lips with her own, Bocchan retires for the night, and Alice lies in the warm spot he left.

The next day, Viola takes Bocchan to the grave where he was cursed by a woman in white. They cross paths with their mom, who tells Viola not to stand so close to her brother and again insists she start dressing like a proper lady; Viola pays her no mind.

The night of the big dinner, Bocchan’s mom has him seated at the far end of the table. Turns out she only summoned him there to inform him that due to his father’s deteriorating health (oddly we never see him) Bocchan must break the curse by Spring or Walter will be named the family head.

When Bocchan insists on discussing another matter and brings up Alice, his mom thinks he’s joking if he thinks he’ll be able to marry the one he loves. But Bocchan won’t stand for her calling Alice a “lowly maid”, nor will he have what he’s talking about mistaken for japes. He forcefully tells her that Alice was the one who pulled him out of the abyss, and he’d be dead were it not for her.

Further, he, Walter and Viola aren’t her things, they’re her children, and sometimes there are things more important than wheeling and dealing. He storms out of the room without finishing the soup course, and Viola and Walter also excuse themselves to show him out. None of them see their mother smile, as she’s impressed and proud that Bocchan has grown into a strong young man who can talk back to her.

There’s a sense of triumph in seeing Bocchan flanked by his siblings in the hall. Unlike their mother, they no longer see him as a freak or monster, but simply as their brother, who had some misfortune. At the same time, they also envy him for having been able to live outside of the harsh stern structure of the main residence. He’s been able to live his own life with Alice and Rob.

That said, the curse remains, and Bocchan is still determined to get rid of it, hopefully by his mom’s Spring deadline. As they play cards by the fire, Bocchan tells Alice that she’ll always have all of his love, even if he doesn’t come right out and say he told his mother he’d be marrying her. When he later falls asleep at the card table, Alice lays a blanket over him and says “I love you.”

So we’ve reached the end of the first part of Bocchan and the Black Maid’s story of finding light, hope, and love in the darkness…but only for now. With the promise of a sequel at the conclusion of the episode, I’ll surely be watching when its pure, sweet, charming central couple returns.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 11 – The Logbook

Viola’s mom kicks her bitchiness up to 11, not only insisting her daughter dress a certain way, but accept the fact that she can’t wear what she wants or live her own life. For her mom, Viola’s future consists of being married off to the eldest possible son of the richest possible family.

Not content to sheepishly accept her status as a mere commodity to be traded, Viola “runs away” from home with her luggage, though she only ends up having a girl’s sleepover with Alice and Caph. Viola’s situation reminds use that she suffers a curse just like her brother: one that threatens to limit her prospects for life. If, say, Bocchan were to lift his curse and become the head of the family, he’d likely let Viola live her life as she saw fit.

That’s one reason why Viola gives Alice an old servant logbook which may hold answers about when and how Bocchan’s curse was first established; that, and Viola really does care for her brother. Alice ends up discovering a passage about two women in white nun’s habits visiting the main house right around the time Bocchan was cursed. It’s clearly no coincidence.

One of the white nuns in question is Daleth, leader of Zain and Caph’s order, and thanks to her being able to use the eyes of various wildlife to spy on Alice, Daleth knows the maid has her hands on the logbook. She orders Zain to take it and destroy it, with the implication that if he doesn’t harm could befall Caph. But when Zain is honest about what he’s doing and why, Bocchan offers the book back for Zain to burn. He knows Zain would do anything for Caph, just as he’d do anything for Alice.

Zain ends up “destroying” the book with his magic, but retains a tiny scrap with which he can fully restore the book once Daleth’s eyes are no longer watching. But it’s doubtful he was able to fool Daleth, who finally reveals her face this week, as wel as the bombshell that she has the corpse(?) of Alice’s mom Sharon in her possession.

The slice-of-life episodes made sure we thoroughly cared about Bocchan, Alice, Viola, Caph and Zain so that when the plot-heavy episodes like this come around, they have some bite. There’s now a non-trivial possibility the curses is lifted next week. But even if it isn’t, I don’t see Bocchan and Alice’s love for each other waning anytime soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 06 – Two Drunk Besties

After her harrowing encounter with the enormous Magical Girl, Jahy is spooked by the mere word “maho”, whether it’s a student’s name, or Mahogany wood, or some kind of mantra. This segment plays with depth of field to subtly show Jahy retreating headfirst into a garbage can.

She ends up losing her precious giant mana crystal, but Manager ends up finding it for her. It’s at this point Jahy determines she can’t move forward if she continues to rely on the kindness and generosity of others. The seriousness of her farewell is quickly undermined by the Manager urging her to take a bath immediately.

Jahy later encounters a young woman carrying a mana crystal just like hers, and assumes she’s just some weak human. Turns out it’s the Magical Girl in disguise. She wants Jahy’s mana crystal, and no matter how much misfortune befalls her as a result, she’s able to bear the punishment due to her Magical Girl super strength and toughness.

This results in the Magical Girl making off with Jahy’s giant mana crystal along with her own. It’s a huge loss for Jahy, basically putting her back at square one. Just imagine if the Magical Girl had an actual brain rattling around inside her skull…Jahy would be well and truly fucked!

Jahy proceeds to use her original mana crystal to transform into adult mode so she can wash away her sorrows, one liter of beer at a time. The Manager doesn’t necessarily approve, but she doesn’t stop pouring the beer, either. Then her sister Ryou arrives, and rather than continue their rivalry, drink Jahy tells her to park her keister next to her and start drinking.

Ryou proves every bit as rambunctious a drunk as Jahy, and the two complement each other perfectly, with Jahy lamenting all her flaws and Ryou countering them with heartfelt praise. She tells Jahy she’s proud of her for managing to get by in a foreign land. The two proceed to have a rager of a night, dancing, hugging, holding each other, and generally having a swell old time.

The next morning, Jahy wakes up naked next to a sleeping Ryou on the floor of the bar where Manager left them. That nefarious Manager also happened to snap a whole bunch of photographic and video evidence of Jahy and Ryou not just getting along, but getting along famously like absolute best buds. Jahy demands immediate erasure, but the Manager will surely save a couple of choice shots to remember that night.

Finally, in the disconnected omake following the credits, we get several mini-episodes of a cooking show starring Jahy, where the only recipe ever prepared is stir-fried bean sprouts with various seasonings. By the end of the segment Jahy’s bubbly enthusiasm has totally evaporated, and if she looks at another bean sprout in a hundred years it’ll be too soon. So naturally, Ryou arrives with a big bag of fresh sprouts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 05 – Jahy’s Dizzy Fever Day

This show will certainly let Jahy have it at times, and when it comes to the atrocities she committed in the Dark Realm, well…ignorance is bliss. But I like how Jahy, despite once being someone for whom servants did everything, is actually really good at her job at Craft Pub Maou. If only she didn’t insist on leaving work dressed in the peak of Dark Realm fashion, which in a residential neighborhood apparently gets the cops on your back.

The flashbacks to Jahy’s previous AACAB (All Anime Cops Are Bastards) moments are wonderful, as is the twist that she wasn’t the suspicious character reported. There’s then another twist when Jahy is certain the other character is the Magical Girl who destroyed the Dark Realm, only for it to be some Math Teacher blowing off steam in Magical Girl cosplay. Also gratifying is seeing her boss and landlady picking her up from the station.

In the next segment, Jahy acts like a real pill, mocking the landlady for bundling up after she catches cold due to the sudden change in weather. But the landlady isn’t there to fight (or collect rent): she’s there to warn Jahy not to wear nothing but what she wears, whether it’s the belt top in big form or her breezy t-shirt in kid form. Jahy laughs at the landlady’s concerns…how could The Great Jahy catch cold?!

Well, quite easily, as it turns out, especially since Jahy makes no effort to adjust her wardrobe for the seasons. She spends one miserable, half-delirious night lamenting her plight, but also lamenting how alone she feels. The next morning she finds not only that the boss has come over to make her rice porridge, but the landlady went out to buy her medicine. These two women really do care for Jahy, and can tell she’s been through a lot.

No sooner do they leave, however, than the notorious Magical Girl shows up at her door. Jahy is struck by how daggum huge the girl is, but luckily the Magical girl doesn’t see her as Jahy, but just a little girl. When the girl asks Jahy to cough up the mana crystal, it dawns on Jahy how overmatched she is.

Not only is she in tiny mode; she’s running a fever. If the Magical Girl wanted to take her crystal, she could have….were it not for the Landlady to the rescue, calling the cops on the very tall, very suspicious young woman in maho shoujo cosplay

Not only does the Landlady save Jahy’s skin, she even sits guard beside her bed so Jahy can rest easy. And it works; while Jahy is nigh inconsolable with tears over how scared and helpless she felt, those tears soon subside and she’s able to get the rest she needs to get better. The Landlady really showed me something this week, as she and Jahy are now less enemies than sisters.

Just to push that point home, the omake segment involves Jahy and Landlady as gaudy pro wrestlers. And here’s the key part: even if two wrestlers look like they hate each others’ guts and want to tear each other limb from limb, rarely is that beef genuine. Rather, both wrestlers are playing roles in an elaborate choreographed performance.

Due to the physical punishment involved, it requires not only talent but mutual trust and respect to pull off an exciting, and more importantly safe match…even if it ends in a tie, as it always does for these two.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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