The Duke of Death and His Maid – 08 – Beauty and the Grouch

This week’s first segment introduces us to Bocchan’s younger brother Walter, and…he’s a lot. First and foremost, he’s a bit of an arrogant prick, already measuring the drapes for his ascension to head of the family. He’s also got a complex about being called the secondborn son…even though that’s what he is. His goofy antics and physical comedy aside, Walter is not a good guy. At least Viola visits her big brother and treats him like a person!

While her official stance is neutral, I imagine Viola prefers Bocchan to Walter, and hopes he’ll break the curse. During her latest visit, she meets Caph, initially assumes she’s a burglar (not a bad instinct!) and attempts to tackle her, only to bounce off her bust. Then she sits on Caph and ties her up by the fire, which is the scene Rob walks in on, much to Viola’s dismay.

While Viola is charming, cute and fun to watch, the real meat of the episode comes in the final extended segment, during which both Bocchan and Alice play a game of chess during a snowy winter night and reminisce about a similar night years ago, when Alice was appointed Bocchan’s maid. Bocchan was in a much darker, more nihilistic emotional place then, and his first instincts were to dismiss Alice and suspect she’s laughing at him on the inside.

This is because, no doubt due in part to the trauma of suffering the witch’s curse, he doesn’t remember Alice. He certainly isn’t aware of just how momentous him taking her hand and helping her off the ground meant to her at that difficult time in her life. That’s right: the kid who now kills anything he touches once essentially saved Alice’s life…with his touch.

No matter how many insults Bocchan flings Alice’s way or derides her mere presence, or tells her he flat out hates her, Alice does not bend, at least not in front of him; we see a rare moment of her vulnerability after he leaves his room and sighs. When he gives her an ultimatum of cleaning his rock starred-up room in three days or she’s fired, she does it in one night, even though she cuts up her fingers picking up shards of glass.

When Bocchan sees Alice isn’t leaving, he decides to leave instead, trudging out into a winter storm until he’s lost and freezing. It’s then that he decides it would be better to just die than continue living the joke of a life he’s endured thus far, unable to touch or be touched.

But it’s while lying in the snow that he finally remembers who Alice was. That’s when Alice arrives to help him up the way he helped her up years ago. The only difference is there’s an umbrella between their hands this time. Alice fell for Bocchan that day, and never stopped falling for him since.

The Witch told Bocchan “No one shall love you, and you shall love no one. You will live a life of misery.” But that’s no longer true once the two come in from the cold and warm themselves by the fire. Alice does love and care for Bocchan, then and always, and Bocchan soon comes to love her right back as the misery in his life gives way to that love and the joy it brings.

Could it be that ever since that snowy night, the witch’s curse has been broken all this time, except that he can only touch Alice? If Bocchan can touch Alice, could it be long before he can safely touch Viola, or Rob, or Caph and Zain, or Walter…or even his mother? Maybe it will all come down to loving and being loved. We shall see in the final third of Duke of Death and His Maid

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 07 – Suspension Bridge Effect

Not about to be discouraged by Daleth’s insistence they give up, Alice spends much of the episode trying to find alternative methods of lifting Bocchan’s curse. She begins by procuring a second-hand witch’s cauldron complete with a book containing recipes for curse-lifting brews. Unfortunately it’s unsuccessful, but it as worth a try.

In the next segment, Alice finds some odd sheet music from a composer named MacFarlane (not Seth) who wrote the music in white ink on black paper because it looked cool, which also makes it hard to read. That said, it’s believed if you play his piece perfectly it can lift a curse, so Bocchan does just that, powering through both the distracting ghost of MacFarlane and Alice’s usual flirting. Turns out the curse that is lifted is…the curse of MacFarlane’s ghost.

When Bocchan accidentally breaks a flowerpot, he runs and hides from the wrath of Rob, and Alice tags along. While he started out the segment wanting to create the “suspension bridge effect” in her by scaring her and causing her heart to race, the fact of the matter is there’s no need to scare her. Alice’s heart is always racing when Bocchan is around, racing all the faster the closer in proximity they are. She’s long since established she’s not scared of dying, she just loves the guy.

The final sequence, which takes place after the credits, involves Bocchan and Alice sharing an Alice in Wonderland-themed dream in which they must secure the White Rabbit in order to exact a wish from Alice (the book version).

Their mission is derailed by the fact they can touch one another in the dream, with Bocchan waking up just before committing to kissing his Alice. The book Alice is mad for them totally slacking off, but Bocchan is content to fall back asleep, hoping to pick up his dream with Alice where he left off.

Meikyuu Black Company – 06 – Meteoric Rise, Temporary Escape

Ninomiya celebrates his promotion to the Demon Lord Army’s Western Invasion Force Director with a trip to a hot spring with Ranga and Rimu. He revels in the fact that at this pace of advancement he’ll soon be a board member who can meet the Demon Lord face-to-face, and possibly return to Japan.

Little do the three know that they’re under surveillance from a camera owned by one of the Three Ravens, high level corporate executives who feel threatened by Ninomiya. One is an old fart who’s always spitting and wearing out the phrase “kids these days”; one is a voluptuous meatheaded amazon, and one is a four-eyed calculating perv.

Knowing what we know about Ninomiya, Rimu, and Ranga, it was a foregone conclusion that their petty schemes would fail one by one, much like Wile E. Coyote is always defeated in his efforts to capture Road Runner. Meathead unleashes a giant worm which Rimu quickly deals with; the worm even joins Ninomiya’s team!

When it’s the old fart’s turn, he challenges Ninomiya to cultivate some barren land, which is easy thanks to giant worm tilling and Ranga’s growing magic. Finally, the four-eyed perv tries to take unconsensual photos of Ranga nude, only to be defeated by the revelation he’s a boy.

If the first half is all about Ninomiya continuing to rise due to his ability to assemble a powerful and talented team, the second half is all about one of its members: Ranga. In what is clearly a dream in the style of Alice in Wonderland, Ranga witnesses the drudgery of unending labor in the form of a group of rabbits turning a wheel to power the Queen’s fountain.

When he laments that she can’t get them more tolerable hours or paid time off, he suddenly shrinks to a tiny size. While escaping the horde of evil rabbits (very Re:Zero-esque, that) he falls through a chute down into a massive underground…internet café.

If the rabbits toiling above ground represented one extreme of the labor spectrum, this café represents the other: all the mole people there have no goals other than repeating the same actions over and over again, calling into question whether life is even worth living.

From corporate grunts to NEETs, oppression and stagnation, Ranga finds himself trapped, both spiritually and physically (in a cage). His ancestor Belza, the Queen of this world, insists that he take her place by her side. That’s when the real Ninomiya stomps the White Rabbit Ninomiya and head-butts Ranga back into reality.

Apparently, the team was on a mission to defeat a Mobile Suit-like giant robot when it shot a strange beam into Ranga’s head, placing him in that dream prison that drew upon his own fears and insecurities. When he asks Ninomiya if always running away is bad, he tells him perhaps usually, but there’s always the useful phrase “strategic retreat”.

As long as Ranga’s overall goal hasn’t changed, he’s free to run away as many times as he needs to for the sake of future victory. Of course, Mobile Suit Gundam, the source of inspiration for their defeated mecha, was packed with those kinds of strategic retreats.

Defeating the mecha means Ninomiya can finally meet the Demon Lord…and she (or he) appears to be a Bahamut-like dragon in human form, like Rimu. Like Ranga last week, s/he asks Ninomiya to “save this world”. I know what he’ll probably say: Assuming he does, can he go home?

Cardcaptor Sakura – 55 – Alice in HOEEE-nderland

From the opening scene in which Sakura narrates a beautiful sequence of illustrations, it’s immediately clear what’s going to go down this week, even if you didn’t watch the preview. Sakura’s totally getting trapped inside Alice in Wonderland by Eriol. Meanwhile Tomoyo proves adept at shit-stirring by noting how nice Sakura and Eriol look together in earshot of Syaoran, forcing another staredown that Sakura notices for the first time.

While everyone is reading at the library, the enchanted leaf Eriol gave Sakura as a bookmark activates, and sure enough, she’s sucked in. It’s interesting to note that while Alice typically wears blue, Sakura is dressed in a pink dress with a heart suit theme. Eriol appears as the Cheshire Cat, but like said cat is more cryptic and mischievous than helpful.

Sakura encounters Yukito the White Rabbit, who transforms into Yue, scoops her up, and drops her in the middle of her brother the Mad Hatter’s tea party. She drinks the tea he makes and finds it delicious, but is too late to realize it’s a potion to make her tiny, an experience she did not enjoy last time it happened.

Once she’s small enough to fit on a flower, she’s confronted by twin Syaorans as Tweedledee and Tweedledum, who curiously enough quiz her on whether and who Syaoran likes. Sakura still thinks Syaoran likes Yukito, but his feelings have since shifted in her direction, hence her being wrong about the one he likes being taller than him.

Ultimately,. Sakura converts Big to grow bigger than Little to shrink back to normal size, and finds herself on a chessboard where Tomoyo AKA Humpty Dumpty is playing against Queen Kerberus. Sakura takes flight, and once she remembers the big leaf in the sky is the portal through which she entered, flies into it and emerges back in the library.

Tomoyo and Syoaran do their best to keep the others in the dark about all the magic stuff going on at their table, and Sakura ends up getting sleepy from creating two more Sakura Cards and falling into Syaoran’s arms. CCS delivers exactly what it said it would—Sakura in Wonderland—and does so with style and with some fun character moments. That said, I wonder if Sakura will remember that the one Syaoran likes isn’t taller than him…

Cardcaptor Sakura – 24 – HOEEEny, I Shrunk the Cardcaptor

One afternoon Sakura watching Tours of European Castles while wistfully dreaming about living in one, Touya reads a magazine beside her. He ribs her for not being “princess material”, and she inadvertently gives his argument credence by kicking him in the knee. It’s such a lovely, natural brother-sister interaction.

Touya also warns her that dealing with too big a house can be a major pain, foreshadowing things to come. The next day, a newly twin-tailed Tomoyo comes by Sakura’s house in order to—what else—re-measure Sakura (who is apparently in a “growth spurt” so she can tailor her battle costumes just right. Tomoyo brings a homemade strawberry tart as  thanks for indulging her.

Appropriately enough for the events to follow, Sakura’s newest costume resembles Alice’s iconic blue dress in Alice in Wonderland. Both she and Kero-chan sense the presence of a Clow Card, so Sakura releases her staff and has the other two hang back while she investigates.

Sakura’s Clow Card sense leads her to her father’s room, where she encounters a tiny glowing dot bouncing on the bed. It touches her, and before she knows it, she’s less than three inches tall, and her staff has reverted back to a key, which didn’t shrink.

The carpet is like dense, tall grass, the bed an immense mesa. A slight breeze sends her flying out the window, and cats and preying mantises are huge monsters trying to hunt her. The art and animation are extremely effective at conveying just how tiny and helpless Sakura is, despite the fact nothing other than the scale of her surroundings has changed.

Landing on a flower gives us a good idea of how light she is. The bathtub is a lake, and the legs of the table and chairs in the dining area are like a great forest. Heck, even Touya looks and sounds like a kaiju from her perspective, which is ironic considering that’s what he’s always calling his little sister.

Touya comes home with Yukito while Tomoyo and Kero are searching for Sakura, leading Kero to hide. Tomoyo makes up an excuse for Sakura’s absence and has some tea with the boys before remembering her tart, then very hilariously faking a dizzy spell to retrieve Kero and sneak him out so he can keep looking.

Meanwhile, Sakura continues to pursue Little, the Clow Card who made her tiny. But since Little is both smaller and quicker and she can’t use any magic, sealing the card is going to be a…ahem…short order. [Slide Whistle]

Little hops up the steps which Sakura considers too tall and steep to climb on her own. Fortunately, that’s just when Kero-chan finally finds her, and let me just say, seeing him tap the shoulder of and tower over Wee Sakura is one of the best images I’ve yet seen in CCS…that is, of course, until we see Wee Sakura riding Kero-chan like a Pegasus!

Just as Little is about to shrink Tomoyo, Sakura swoops in on Kero-chan, touches Little, returns to normal size, releases her staff and seals the card, ending her “little adventure” with the latest, addition to her collection.

Sakura and Tomoyo celebrate by sharing the strawberry tart with Touya and Yukito, but the tart is so good there’s only a single strawberry atop a meager morsel left for Kero-chan, who after all made a major contribution to the card capturing this week. No worries; Sakura need only cast Little on him in order to shrink him down so his strawberry is the size of an igloo!

As soon as I saw the preview for this episode, I had a good feeling I was in store for another CCS Classic, and I was not disappointed. It also ends on a perfect note: with Sakura tuning in once more to Tours of European Castles, only to promptly change the channel. She’s had her fill of big houses for the time being, and doesn’t need to be a princess…she’s a Cardcaptor!

Assassins Pride – 12 (Fin) – In the Name of Love

Mule’s spell transports Melida into an Alice in Wonderland-style rose garden, where Duke Shicksal and all of his noble allies put her on trial for, essentially, being a bastard and an impostor. Melida listens to about as much of their prattle as I’d be able to stomach before telling them to STFU. If they don’t believe she’s the real deal, she’ll just have to prove them wrong—and she does, defeating their champion, a reluctant but still committed Salacha.

When Shicksal sees things going badly, he summons a giant ink dragon to undo the recording of these events and eliminate their witnesses, but Melida and Elise are joined by Sala and Mule in helping to evacuate everyone, even Othello, who had had nothing but horrible things to say about Melida. I’m a little fuzzy on why Sala and Mule let things go so far before helping their friend, but whatevs.

When Melida’s Impostor dad reappears to put Melida in her place, Kufa arrives in time to parry his blow. But rather than let her instructor save her once again, she resolves to fight with him side-by-side, showing him what she’s learned. Having endured so much nay-saying and bile from people who don’t know what they’re talking about, it’s very satisfying to watch a defiant Melida take an active role in silencing them and foiling their schemes.

She’s come a long way, which goes for her maturity as well. That’s why she uses the request of Kufa she earned by passing the qualification isn’t to go on a date or to be her boyfriend, but simply to ask him to keep watching her as she continues the work of showing Flandore that she’s not the Incompetent Talented Girl, and never was. Kufa accedes to her request wholeheartedly, as she, who was once his target, has become his greatest pride.