Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 04 – Anywhere is Fine

Izumi, always sensitive to the heat and sun, is struggling on the roof where his friends have gathered to discuss plans for summer break. Not only do I salute these kids for being on top of things—how many times are anime are summer breaks wasted due to lack of communication? Enter Shikimori, who surprises him by touching his face with a cold sports drink.

Hachimitsu also offers him some space under her parasol. This notably doesn’t worry Shikimori, as “it’s just Hachimitsu”, i.e. not someone trying to steal her Izumi! As for where they’re going for break, they decide on the river, as the beach would prove too much for Izumi. They make it clear they’re not compromising on his account; they want to go somewhere where everyone will have fun.

Nekozaki Kyou, the energetic heart of the friend group whom I find myself loving more and more as the series progresses, decides that despite it just being the river, everyone should wear swimsuits. So instead of studying for upcoming final exams, she brings everyone out shopping. When Izumi says he probably won’t be swimming, she says she’s fine not buying a swimsuit.

…That is until she spots Izumi gazing a tad too intently on a poster of a swimsuit model in a skimpy black bikini. While Izumi is simply admiring her muscles (confirming that Izumi has a type) Shikimori races to the swimsuit store and finds the same bikini…but is hesitant to purchase it. Nekozaki seconds that, and assure her she and Hachimitsu will find her one that suits her.

Nekozaki can tlel when Shikimori’s fiery competitive spirit and hatred of losing rears its head; it’s what ended up being the icing on the cake for why she made it a point to become friends with Shikimori. She already had a girl-crush on her for being her idea of a perfect, pure, ideal woman, and then they played one hell of a passionate basketball game, and Nekozaki simply couldn’t stay on the friendship sideline a second longer.

I’m of the mind that Nekozaki is selling herself far too short, and that Inuzuka would be lucky to have her as a girlfriend. I know “Inu”zuka and “Neko”zaki indicate an incompatible dynamic (cats and dogs, oil and vinegar), I think if they’re honest with each other they’d make a good couple. Their sniping at each other feels like a practiced act.

Once the girls rejoin the guys in the food court, Izumi notices how excited Shikimori looks and asks her what she bought. When Shikimori says nothing, he knows she’s lying. Nekozaki saw Shikimori have Izumi in the palm of her hand earlier, but here the tides have turned; there are plenty times when she’s in his palm. It’s why they work so well as a couple.

The first day of finals arrives, and Izumi has a particularly cursed day, even for him; ending with Shikimori is pulling him away from an angry (tiny) dog (shades of the excellent video gamey ED). Later, Izumi is lamenting being unable to study properly when Shikimori gives him a call simply to hear his voice.

Night calls between girlfriend and boyfriend are often veritable fonts of big time feels, but this scene is the cream of the crop. The two sitting in their rooms in the dark, connected by the starry night sky. Izumi tells her about his love of the stars, but how he never got a chance to stargaze as a kid due to it always being cloudy when he wanted to.

When Shikimori assures him she’ll take him somewhere to see the stars, Izumi brings up the fact she lobbied for them to go to the river rather than the beach, and states his desire to take her somewhere she wants to go. The thing is, Shikimori is fine with anywhere as long as he’s there.

The two spout so many sweet somethings to each other, and they both want to desperately see each other’s faces—completely forgetting the fact that video calls are a thing. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most adorable and heartwarming moments yet between these two desperately beautiful, loving souls.

In the after-credit omake, Shikimori is at a cooking class with Izumi’s beautiful but accident-prone mom. She’s naturally nervous around Izumi’s mom, considering looks-and-kindness-wise she’s basically an older female version Izumi.

As such, the scene is humming with romantic tension, especially when Izumi’s trips while bringing Shikimori a left-handed knife, and Shikimori catches the knife with one hand and Izumi’s mom with the other. If mama didn’t already know Shikimori is far more than just a cutie, she sure as heck knows now!

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 03 – Not Clowning Around

It’s been established that Yuu is accident-prone, but his misfortunate is mitigated by the fact he has a cute and amazing girlfriend in Micchon, made only cuter by the fact she frets so much about what to wear on their first movie date together. It’s as if she isn’t aware that she’d look good in anything, even her comfy home sweats. Oh, also, she has a brother.

Micchon settles on a cute collared one piece dress and Mary Janes. She’s also early, knowing Yuu might be delayed by various unlucky occurrences. When it comes time to pick a movie, she tells him whatever he likes is fine, but he wants to learn more about her, so insists that they watch what she wants. Unfortunately for him, it’s a scary clown movie!

Micchon admits that movies like this scare her, so Yuu learns that yes, she does feel fear! But Yuu is more outwardly scared by the film, so while he goes in fully prepared to comfort Micchon if she gets scared, it’s her who takes his trembling hand into hers and calms him down (and keeps him conscious).

Yuu saved up so that he could get fancy pancakes with Micchon, but then misfortune strikes when he notices the string he tied to keep from losing his wallet snapped. But then good fortune befalls them when his adorable parents invite them to a feast at home. As with the movie, Micchon is excellent at hiding her nervousness, but assures Yuu that she can’t not be when she’s in the home of the one she loves.

Micchon also learns that Yuu gets his unlucky streak in part from his mother, as she must catch an errant fork headed for Yuu’s face and then catch a wet dish his mom drops. His mom seems oblivious to where he gets it from. I love how Micchon instantly starts calling Yuu’s parents mom and dad, and how his mom gives her more insight into his unlucky past.

When she says she hopes Micchon won’t “grow impatient” with Yuu, Micchon tells her that her belief that Yuu’s unluckiness is why he’s so kind and caring, because he understands pain better than anyone. Micchon has never once felt impatient or thought that Yuu was trouble; if anything, it’s an honor to support and protect such a beautiful soul.

Her heartfelt words are enough to make Yuu’s mom blush. In an anime world where parents are either dead, off at work or at odds with their kid or their choice of partner, it’s nice to see Yuu in a loving home and to see Micchon get along famously with his parents.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 02 – Sending Good Vibes

It’s sports festival time – the perfect opportunity for Shikimori and Izumi to cheer each other on. Unfortunately, his soccer game and her volleyball match start within ten minutes of each other.

Shikimori is disappointed, but while outwardly a weenie, her bae still has the confidence and earnestness to take her hand and assure her he’ll be cheering for her even if they’re apart, sending good vibes her way through hand contact.

And Izumi’s just as capable of making her blush as vice versa. Last week showed that an imbalanced relationship could be okay; this week shows us that it’s not unbalanced at all, but quite equitable. While catching the first few minutes of his game with Neko and seeing things aren’t going well, Shikimori sends a bit of those vibes back to Izumi.

It seems to work, but only a little bit: the ball ends up right by Izumi’s foot, but he still ends up tripping and missing the kick that was lined up for him, then gets belted in the face by a header. Even though it’s about time for her match to start, Izumi is more important, and Shikimori runs to his aid.

If her good vibes didn’t help Izumi in the soccer department, it ends up helping both of them in the boyfriend-girlfriend department, as they share a beautiful tender scene in the nurse’s office with soft guitar strumming. Shikimori compliments Izumi’s hair—which for the record is legit pretty, as are his eyes.

She also notices a scar on his forehead, and he tells her how he has a lot on his body, not from his dark past as an assassin, but simply due to his famous bad luck (Truck-kun hit his house, for gosh sakes!). Shikimori worries about him and again asks him to stay by her side as mnuch as possible. But before she leaves, he says he can protect her too, which causes her to almost climb under the covers with him.

We later see her bump her head out in the hall, cursing herself for coming on too strong it wasn’t originally a tease, but she passed it off as one. It’s moments like this when it’s just Shikimori and her thoughts that she truly does feel like a real human being—not just a pedestaled ideal of one.

That self-flusteredness appears to affect her volleyball game, at least at first, which can’t happen when Neko says that Kamiya, the volleyball ace is on the other team and giving her A-game. But when Izumi cheers as loud as he can from the upper balcony, Shikimori moves her ponytail from the side to the back and makes a face so cool and serious, everyone in the gym takes notice and swoons.

It’s here where Doga Kobo flexes its animation muscles while continuing to provide an immensely strong Shikimori Face Game. Her spikes and volleys are things of beauty, and there’s no doubt that Shikimori is only playing at this high a level—and wins the match—primarily because Izumi is watching and cheering her on.

She won’t allow herself to let him down, and doesn’t. Even so, I could have totally seen an alternate scenario where her team came up short and she was distraught about failing, and Izumi would tell her the result didn’t matter. Just as she thinks he looks cool trying his best on the soccer pitch, she looks even cooler giving her all, win or lose.

Of course, Shikimori and her team do win (and beat that ace Kamiya, who was putting out strong “Izumi’s childhood friend/betrothed” vibes) and the whole school sees her cool side, once reserved only for Izumi. The next few days are a whirlwind, with hordes of fangirls lining up to shake her hand and get pictures.

Just like his cheers that inspired her to play harder and the potential for him to comfort her if she lost comprise the ways Izumi protects her, he is frustrated that he can’t literally protect her from her sudden and intense celebrity. (I also wanted to mention that when complimenting her Izumi says she “constantly radiates athleticism” and “you’re so cute” in the same breath, because those things aren’t mutually exclusive.)

The by-product of her new school hero status is that she and Izumi are isolated: her on an island and him behind an impenetrable wall of fans. This means her duties protecting him from projectiles and other pratfalls fall to his friend Izunuka.

When Shikimori flashes a look of unfiltered anger at the sight of Izumi helping Izunuka up after he caught a ball to the side of the head, the reasons are twofold: jealousy that Izunuka is protecting her bae instead of her, and anger at herself for not being there for Izumi.

This looks like a potential for a widening rift between the lovebirds, but by episode’s end everything is resolved in a way that is both beautifully presented, emotionally earned, and true to the characters. Izumi is seemingly on his way home alone, lamenting how others know of Shikimori’s cool side. When he inevitably almost falls down the steps, Shikimori catches him from behind and delivers the killer line “Who said you could go home alone?”

When Izumi tells her he didn’t want to get in the way of her newfound celebrity, she leans against the wall morosely and delivers another banger of a line: “You know you’re the only one I want to walk home with.” Izumi admits he wasn’t leaving, but was just going to wait by the front gate for her, since he’s been missing her too the last few days.

Upon hearing this, Shikimori’s face becomes a masterpiece of shifting expressions, one moment on the verge of tears, but with a smirk of relief and jubilation the next. Even if everyone knows Shikimori’s not just a cutie, there are still myriad sides only Izumi will ever see, and no fangirl army in the world can keep these two apart for long.

This spring keeps belting out one awesome rom-com episode after
another. I don’t know what’s going on, but I like it!

Akudama Drive – 01 (First Impressions) – Too Much is Not Enough

From its opening moments when it presents a stark futuristic urban landscape a la Blade Runner 2049, then the camera dives into an impossibly lively and kinetic future cityscape, I knew we’d be in for a lush eyefeast. The gaudy visuals are always on the cusp of causing sensory overload, but the direction wisely finds “rest spots”, such as when the camera angles stay level at an alleyway takoyaki stand.

It’s there where our unnamed female protagonist is grabbing a bite to eat, and the course of her night—and the rest of her life—is suddenly changed forever, all thanks to a ¥500 piece dropped by a gray taciturn young man on a purple Akira superbike. He refuses the coin from the girl, saying “dropped change is bad luck”. After what happens to the girl, I really can’t dispute that!

We learn Mr.Poutybike is really Courier, whose bike is equipped with omni-directional mobility gear to essentially Spider-Man his way over and through Kansai’s endless labyrinth of concrete canyons. We also meet Brawler creating an impressive, ever-growing pile of busted-up police bots; Hacker, hacking into the Kansai Central Bank; and sultry sadist Doctor performing an impromptu heart bypass in public transit airship.

These four super-cool, ultra-colorful characters (none of them named; their jobs are their names) each have centuries worth of estimated sentences for their myriad crimes. After they show off their stuff, each receives a mysterious text for a new job: Whomever of them rescues the murderer Cutthroat from his public execution later that night will be rewarded a cool ¥100 million.

The four criminals, designated S-Class Akudama, converge on Kansai Police HQ…where our Ordinary Girl ended up after being arrested for not paying for her takoyaki. The fact she didn’t pay when she had the ¥500 coin suggests to a police bot that she may be a Swindler. When Brawler starts throwing bots through windows, the Girl is caught in the middle of the fray.

When she spots a black cat—the same one she saved while almost getting hit by a car earlier—she chases after it and protects it, because between those selfless acts and not feeling right spending Courier’s ¥500, Ordinary Girl is a good person—maybe the only good person in this whole insane city!

That, however, doesn’t save her from the bad luck of picking up that dropped coin, which puts her literally in the crossfire of all four Akudama, who had been busy fighting each other until she presented them with a mutual target to kill. She manages to save herself (for the moment) by lying about being an Akudama like them named Swindler, so-called because she even tricked the computer system.

Before they start pressing her for proof, a giant police robot emerges from the elevator, missiles firing. Cutthroat was only a second or two from being beheaded by guillotine when the other four Akudama, the megabot, and Ordinary Girl all spill out into the public execution arena, much to the police cheif’s chagrin. They also end up destroying part of the underground prison, freeing, among others, the D-Class Akudama Hoodlum.

Courier leads the attack on the megabot, winding his bike around the giant overhead scoreboard display, sending it plummeting on top of everyone else. At first Ordinary Girl can just watch gobsmacked as all this chaos happens around her with the cat in her arms, but when she spots Courier about to be killed by the bot, she remembers her duty to get him back his coin.

She distracts the bot by pointing out Hoodlum, giving Courier enough time to activate his bike’s built-in railgun (but notably not activated with the coin—a missed opportunity to be sure). The bot is destroyed, the cops are in disarray, and all the Akudama are still breathing. Courier refuses to thank the Girl for helping him. Dick!

But how long will each of them be breathing? When Cutthroat emerges free from his binds and is given the briefcase by Courier, he immediately fits its contents (necklaces) on himself, the Akudama, and the Girl, and a guard. When the the guard tries to pry it off his head explodes, indicating the chokers are bombs. Then the theretofore silent cat finally speaks up—apparently the mastermind of this job and the scenario in which the criminals and Ordinary Girl find themselves.

You may not find a more indulgently EXTRA show than Akudama Drive (AKA “A.D.D.”) this Fall, and its first episode surpasses even K in pure delicious eye candy. I knew going in this had the same director as Persona, the character designer of Danganronpa, and Railgun’s composer.

Kurosawa Tomoyo (Sound! Euphonium’s Kumiko, Amaburi’s Sylphy) does a tremendous job infusing Ordinary Girl with a crisp, bright, expressive voice. So there’s a ton of talent here. One of my favorite unnecessary-but-awesome flexes are the transitions between parts of the city in which the different layers of the landscape are fitted together like Tetris pieces.

One thing that may turn some off besides the visuals that border on too cool and trying too hard: the fact there’s no attempt to give dimension to any of these characters, who basically start and end at their names and are embellished with their individual style and methods. No amount of intricate spinning signs can distract from the fact there’s not much below the surface.

That said, I found Ordinary Girl an effective and sympathetic audience surrogate, and whatever deadly game into which she’s stumbled backwards is one I can’t wait to watch unfold…even if it may be best to switch off the ol’ brain and enjoy the empty neon calorie airship ride.

Rating: 4/5

Carole & Tuesday – 01 (First Impressions) – Looking for What’s Missing Together

Tuesday is sick of feeling alone, unfulfilled, wasting away in her family’s massive manse in Herschel. She wants to make music, so she packs up her Gibson guitar and autonomous suitcase, slips out the window, and hops on the midnight train to Alba City.

It’s an elegant opening sequence that shows us everything we need to see without excessive exposition, and shows us the details of this intriguing future civilization on Mars, full of nifty tech and gleaming buildings, but also goats. There will always be goats.

The moment she wakes up and lays eyes on the city for the first time is also very well done. I was a little worried for Tuesday doing what Cyndi Lauper did and going for broke on a dream, but also immensely excited.

Meanwhile, in Alba, it’s hard for Carole to go for broke when she’s just flat-out broke. She at least has an awesome loft thanks to a kindly landlord, as well as a nifty uni-hoverboard to weave through the city churn to her awful fast food job where she’s berated and propositioned in equal measure.

Like Tuesday, we learn a lot about who Carole is not merely by listening to her monologue, but by watching her live. I also love her robotic pet/alarm clock owl, Ziggy, as well as her take-no-shit face upon being hit on by a rude customer.

Tuesday’s great first day in the big city goes about as well as you’d expect; her luggage is quickly swiped as she stands still taking everything in, just after Carole tells us that Alba is a city that will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t stop moving. Incidentally, after two customers spit out food Carole served up as a measure of revenge, the restaurant spits her out, and she’s suddenly jobless…and not for the first time.

As perky on camera as she’s surly off, Angela fires her human manager for booking her nothing but shit jobs like dressing up like a giant durian for a soda ad. She feels she’s above such bullshit, and like Tuesday is trying to take the next step.

After a shit day, Carole sets up her Nord keyboard on a bridge and starts tapping and humming out a pretty, sad, lonely little melody to complement the sunset, assured that no one will stop, listen, or be moved.

So it is most fortuitous that Tuesday finds herself on that bridge just as Carole is playing, and she stops, listens, and is moved. She even comes up with lyrics for it on the fly, which Carole likes.

When a cop shows up to break up her busking, Carole splits, and Tuesday follows. They introduce themselves, and perhaps a part of both of them know right then and there that their lives have been changed forever by their meeting.

As Tuesday’s emotionally distant workaholic mother delegates Tuesday’s running away to her son and gets back to whatever work she does that makes them so rich, Angela’s battleaxe of a mother and manager takes her to see Tao, a music producer who has only worked with AI “talent” until now. If Tuesday feels lonely and Carole feels trapped, Angela is straight-up bored, both with her career and her life. Tao’s warnings don’t deter her from persuing a singing career by any means necessary.

We’re then introduced to the first male character, a former music industry participant (performer? producer? both?) drinks himself into a stupor, asks for the music to be shut off, then promptly passes out on the floor.

At Carole’s super-cool crib, something magical happens. Tuesday whips out her guitar, and Carole her keys, and the slowly, tentatively start dipping their toes into the pool of musical collaboration.

It’s a wonderous thing to see unfold, and like Tuesday’s runaway scene, it’s a picture of narrative elegance and purpose. As they get more and more comfortable singing and playing together, they emit an aura of rising warmth. And they feel it too: this is what both of them were missing: each other.

Carole takes Tuesday to an utterly gorgeous city vista on the rooftop, where they make their first collab official by taking a selfie and posting it to an Instagram story called “Carole & Tuesday”, which is a great name for a musial duo. They’re going for it, and one more look at our drunken ex-music producer suggests that he’ll be instrumental in helping them climb out of obscurity and into the big time, just as Angela is entering a new chapter of her life in that same space.

In the first truly excellent episode of the Spring, Bones, Wantanabe Shinichiro, seiyus Ichinose Kana and Shimabukuro Miyuri, and the all-important Wantanabe anime element of richly-integrated music (which doesn’t skimp on the always-lovely diminished sevenths) all conspire to create a epic, heartfelt genesis of a friendship, partnership, and evolution of the lives of two young women who, as Cyndi said, Just Wanna Have Fun. And I am here for it!

Zombieland Saga – 12 (Fin) – We’re All Zombies, We’ve All Died

Even after Tatsumi’s big speech, Sakura remains skeptical that she’ll be able to pull off the Arpino show, believing she’ll only be a drag on the others, even as practicing reveals she still has the muscle memory of the dance moves. After those demoralizing failures in her life, she’s given up all hope of ever succeeding at anything, and would rather be left alone.

Of course, her friends don’t leave her alone, in large part because she never left them alone. That is to say, she never gave up on them when they were at their lowest. Junko, Ai, Lily, Saki—without Sakura, none of them would be where they are today, on the cusp of their biggest show yet. They fully intend to repay that debt, and a well-timed slap from Yuugiri is the sign they won’t take no for an answer.

They remind Sakura that she’s not the only one who had a rough life—they all died young and tragically—and would rather fail on stage together than have a perfect show without her. If she’s not beside them, it’s not a success, bad luck be damned.

The night before the show, Tatsumi reminisces about the past; specifically, a certain red-haired classmate at school whom he admired. That classmate turns out to be Sakura, which explains why he recruited her. She may not have been a legend in her time, but he’s determined to make her one after her time.

The day of the show, a huge winter storm approaches (thankfully isn’t named, because naming winter storms is asinine). The group rehearses, prepared to perform in an empty venue of necessary, but to their surprise and delight most of the 500 who bought tickets show up; a who’s-who of characters whose lives they touched throughout the series run.

They all go out on stage, with Sakura as the center, full of vim and vigor, and get off to a good start—only for Sakura’s bad luck to rear its ugly head in the cruelest of ways: the snow and winds crash through the windows and collapse the stage and lights, leaving Franchouchou in a pile of debris and dust.

Then Tatsumi starts slowly clapping, breaking the stunned silence of the crowd. Sakura gets up and keeps singing, and the rest of the group follows suit. The techs get enough lights and speakers working so they can continue the show (albeit under extremely hazardous conditions for the still-living crowd).

No matter, the idols dazzle the stage (what’s left of it) and earn an encore, while Sakura gets her memories back. It’s a great victory, but it’s only the beginning of Franchouchou’s quest to conquer Saga—just as the journalists start to connect the dots about their shouldn’t-be-possible resurrection.

Whether that’s a legitimate teaser for another season or these twelve are all we get, Zombieland Saga was a pleasant, at times side-splitting, at times surprisingly poignant diversion. Vibrant, rootable characters, an irreverent tone and Miyano Mamoru made for a pretty solid combo.

I’d have liked to learn more about Yuugiri and/or Tae’s past, particularly the latter’s inability to talk despite nailing all the dance moves and expressing emotion during her attempts to bring Sakura back in the fold. But I’ll settle for what we got!

Zombieland Saga – 11 – The Girl Who Tried, and Died for Her Efforts

In a nearly shot-for-shot recreation of her first night in the mansion, Sakura wakes up and discovers her fellow zombies, only they’re all “awake” now (except for Tae of course). Their roles have reversed; she’s the one with no memories of what’s happened since becoming a zombie.

Instead, she only remembers her life when she was alive. As for that life, well…let’s just say the opening minute of the first episode was not an accurate depiction, except for the getting-hit-by-a-car part.

The other idols are hoping they can get Sakura back on board with the show, but her memories of them isn’t all she’s lost; she’s also lost her will to do, well, anything. Her motivation is shot, as if that truck accident caused it to spill out onto the asphalt instead of blood (as she no longer has any).

She lacks motivation because she remembers her life, which followed a depressingly predictable pattern: she’d always try really hard and give a task or goal her all, only for all that hard work to go to waste due to a last-minute mishap or accident.

The last time she decided to give something a try one last time, it was because she was inspired by Mizuno Ai of Iron Frill, who said she doesn’t hate failures or mistakes, since they help her learn and become even better.

But Sakura was denied the opportunity to even mail her audition paperwork to the idol agency, thanks to that truck. Now she’s dead, and a zombie. Nothing ever works out for her, because, as she says, she doesn’t “have what it takes.” She says this something like ninety times.

And I guess that was part of why I felt kinda meh about this episode. I feel for someone working so hard again and again only to fall victim to impossibly bad luck, but at this point she literally has nothing to lose. I understand the “main” character getting her miniarc last before the finale, but for her dilemma to be couched in such mundane, repetitive angst kinda saps the momentum of the show.

Maybe that’s the point, and maybe Tatsumi’s speech to her about him having what it takes (something, er…”big and impressive”) so she doesn’t have to will snap her out of her malaise and get her back on track. But right now Sakura is the first of the idols I liked better before we learned more about her.

She thinks the universe is out to keep her down, despite the fact she was brought back to life to be what she dreamt to be before she died. If that’s not a sign the cycle has been broken and thus cause for optimism, I don’t know what is!

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 02 – We’ll Always Have Avignon

As Stiyl interrogates Lidvia and Biagio in the Tower of London (er, whoever they are), Touma lands in the Rhône River, right by the Pont Saint-Bénézet. Fortunately for him, an ally is on that bridge and jumps in the drink to save him.

That ally is the kind and lovely Itsuwa of the Amakusa Sect, who must change into skimpier clothes when her outfit is soaked by the rescue, leading to a couple of awkward scenes between her and Touma.

What connects Stiyl’s interrogation and Touma and Itsuwa’s advrentures in Avignon are The Right Hand of God, a group of individuals who have apparently successfully purged themselves of most of the original sin inherent in all humans, giving them some angelic powers.

Touma also learns that the Document of C is officially the reason for the demonstrations. Whomever has the relic wields more power than a president with Twitter, able to mold the masses into believing whatever they say, even if there’s no proof to back it up. In this case, they are being told the Academy City is evil and the source of all their ills.

Touma teams up with Itsuwa to locate the geoducts being used to remotely control the relic from the Vatican. In the process we once again witness the unique and charming Amakusa tradition of hiding magic in ordinary everyday objects like bottled water…or underwear.

Itsuwa’s attempts to render a geoduct inoperable are interrupted by a member of the Right Hand of God calling himself Terra of the Left. Despite the earthy name his attacks seem to be wind-based, but Itsuwa dodges and Touma nullifies the strikes with his Imagine Breaker.

Of course, it’s the same age-old problem with Touma: his power is almost strictly defensive; he can hold off Terra but can’t defeat him. Perhaps the addition of Tsuchimikado to Touma and Itsuwa’s ranks will help break the stalemate.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 01 (First Impressions) – Misfortune and More Misfortune

Here we are, back in Academy City. I remember most of the faces, as well as most of their connections. There’s yet another threat looming as a large and ominous protest by a religious group takes place all the way in Toulouse, France, and the worlds of magic and science seem to be teetering on the precipice of another nasty conflict.

Seemingly in the middle of it all is Kamijou Touma, he of Imagine Breaker—and eternal misfortune—fame. In less than two days he loses his wallet, gets bitten by Index, gets detention for a debate over bunny girls, gets beaned by a Fukiyose fastball, and then yelled at and attacked with lightning by Biribiri.

And all that turns out to be the least of his problems. An old lady who encounters Index later nabs Touma and takes him somewhere secluded at gunpoint. She’s part of Academy City’s governing board, and seems interested in Touma’s ability should the Orthodox Church be using the protests as a booster to “attack the world”, something to which the city would have to respond.

This old lady is then promptly shot by Tsuchimikado, who then whisks Touma off to France via supersonic jet and skydive, where he and Touma will recover a Roman Orthodox magical item called the Document of Constantine. It’s a good thing Tsuchimikado’s stepsister Maika is cooking for Index, because it doesn’t look like Touma will be home for a while…

Just Because! – 07

Things really come together in the Natsume-Izumi-Komiya love triangle this week, as both girls start to realize the feelings they have, things long left unsaid are finally said, nudging the narrative forward in a satisfying way.

Komiya clutching Izumi’s back was certainly a provocative image to leave use with two weeks ago—particularly in making Natsume bear witness to the display. As it happens, the embrace was instigated by a jubilant Komiya. We get to see what led up to that hug-from-behind, with Izumi saving Komiya from a run-in with a scary dude who thought she was snapping pics of him without his permission.

She blames Izumi for not giving her permission, but more importantly, finally tells him why it’s so important he give it: the photography club is a place where she finally belonged; if it’s gone, she’ll have nowhere.

While that’s not strictly true, I’m sure Izumi can relate to not having a true place to belong after being uprooted from his school and friends years back. And like Komiya, he’s working to preserve such a place, by trying to get into the same university as Natsume.

Izumi tellingly gets no sleep at all; perhaps he recognized Natsume last night when Komiya was on his back; and when it snows the morning of her test, all forms of transportation are snagged and delayed. It’s a common scenario for Natsume, as Izumi sees it: she’s always getting the short end of the stick; one could also call it plain ol’ bad luck.

It enabled her to see Izumi with Komiya at the worst (and most misunderstandable) possible time; it also caused it to snow the day of her big test, and to slip and fall right before the PA warning about the slippery floor.

But Izumi is on it; he does what he’s always done with Natsume; try to make up for her bad luck by being there with her; to help bear some of her burdens. After seeing him with Komiya, Izumi helping her off the cold wet ground was probably the last thing Natsume expected…and yet here he is.

Izumi also shields her on a crowded train, making things as comfortable as possible before her test. When she worries she’s forgotten all she’s studied, he throws history questions at her, which she answers with ease; she’s alright after all. She asks him to keep quizzing her.

Neither mentions what was up with Komiya last night, he’s just there, in the there and now, to offer his support, and it seems to work: Natsume arrives at the test center with a spring in her step and has a defiant, confident look in the testing room.

That train scene is my favorite of the show between the two; there’s so much quiet, gentle mutual affection there; both look so cozy and content. And it almost instantly turns Komiya—whom I was damn near ready to ship with Izumi last week, but who sneaks up on Izumi in a bookstore—into an interloper. Izumi barely has the time of day for her.

At the same time, I feel sorry that the timing of her “queasiness” is coming at about the same time Natsume is starting to realize her feelings for Izumi. After the test, Natsume watches a middle school couple interact on the train, with the boy carrying the larger load for the girl’s sake, albeit somewhat grumpily.

The boy reminds Natsume of Izumi, clearly carrying something too heavy but willing to do it for her. In that flashback, Natsume’s fellow council members skipped out on her, in another instance of her getting the short end of the stick, but Natsume’s quite right that Izumi got an even shorter end when he suddenly had to move away.

But now Izumi is back, and he’s still willing to go the extra mile for Natsume. Indeed, she’s not yet aware he’s aiming to go to the same university as her. I wonder how she’ll take that when she does learn? I guess it depends on whether he tells her or if she finds out.

Komiya does know; she saw the books Izumi was reading at the store. As such, and with her “queasiness” in mind, Komiya wastes no time asking permission again, this time asking Natsume if she can ask Izumi out on a date.

In baseball speak, this question to Natsume could be considered “chin music”, a fastball high and inside, meant to back the batter off the plate. It’s an aggressive move by a girl who has made many an aggressive move to get what she wants, though in a more pragmatic than selfish or hostile way.

Everyone is looking for a place to belong, and in Komiya’s case, that place might just be by Izumi’s side. Natsume may have been super-passive up to this point, but her response to Komiya is a swift and decisive “no, you can’t”, spoken almost under her breath, but from a higher physical point than Komiya, underscoring her precedence.

Those three words indicate so much: No, you can’t swoop in and take what would already be mine, if I’d realized and/or acted sooner. No, you can’t steal a march on me. You may be working through things faster, but that doesn’t mean I have to match your speed. I’m going to sit down, figure things out and talk with Izumi, and then we’ll see what’s what. Until then, REQUEST DENIED.

It’s an admirable first step and line in the sand for Natsume. Here’s hoping she keeps it up and has a good, productive conversation with Izumi very soon.

Prison School – 11

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It’s cruch time for the inmates, and Gakuto quickly devises a fresh challenge for the Vice President—butt-wrestling—only to find Mari has replaced her, not due to doubt over Meiko’s loyalty or competence, but simply because she suspects the boys have caught on to her pattern of behavior and are planning to exploit her once more…which is exactly what is going on.

Their latest greatest plan thus foiled before it could get off the ground, it falls to Kiyoshi to use Meiko’s replacement Hana to regain access to the office. When he mentions the grudge Hana holds against him (without going into the tawdry details), they protest what could end up a very painful, bloody path, but he sees it as an opportunity to do right by the lads he wronged. They forgave him, but he hasn’t forgiven himself.

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As I suspected, Kiyoshi makes use of Chiyo’s message exchange to gain outside help, and while Chiyo is caught, it’s by Anzu, who shares her desire to get the boys un-expelled. The girls of the Underground StuCo may be the source of all their suffering, but girls also happen to be instrumental to their salvation.

When Gakuto’s quick thinking gets him and Kiyoshi in the office, then ends up alone with Hana, he’s expects the worst for his “eryngii” when she pulls out a pair of shears. Alas, Hana is no butcher, nor is she criminally insane; she merely uses the shears to cut the top off a bottle for him to pee in. Her plan for revenge remains the same; it has not escalated.

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But once Kiyoshi quickly removes his pants, then boxers, he realizes Hana is no less embarrassed by the intimacy of the situation than he is, so he steels himself and tries to win the emotional battle. When Hana realizes what’s happening, she too steels herself, removing her leggings and shimapan and turning the tables. Considering all the messed-up stuff these two have been through—largely through no fault of their own—this is par for the course.

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Kiyoshi doesn’t give up, however, and manages to unlock the door that must be unlocked for the larger plan to succeed. Then she kicks him for being too close, and he catches a glimpse of her “precious area”, which he calls her “medusa”, and then “turns to stone.” Yikes, that’s a lot of double entendres!

Just when Hana is about to pee on him, they’re startled by the commotion when Meiko captures a girl outside the prison. Everyone is dejected that Chiyo has been caught until Shingo recongizes the voice of Anzu, selflessly serving as Chiyo’s decoy and getting captured for the good of the mission.

Kiyoshi gets another accidental peek, and when he explains himself with those entendres, including the use of the term “medusa”, he causes Hana to start bawling. Why did he give it a name? Why does the first person to see her have to be him? Why did it have to turn out this way?

Kiyoshi offers his apologies, and offers to let her hit him as much as she wants…and she does. But hitting him won’t make them even. Instead, in keeping with her eye-for-an-eye sense of justice, she takes from him something he’ll never get back: his first kiss with a girl.

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Almost delirious with the justice she’s doled out, Hana gets Kiyoshi to admit he likes Mari’s little sister, and for that reason, Hana is resolved to do everything to him he doesn’t want her to do, no matter how embarrassing it might be. So as Chiyo sneaks around outside, fighting for Kiyoshi’s sake, Hana continues to purposefully make out with him.

Even if Chiyo doesn’t catch them in the act (something Kiyoshi could probably explain anyway), Kiyoshi won’t forget this evening in the prison office. The thing is, neither will Hana. I can’t believe this encounter won’t stay with her, and that she feels absolutely nothing genuine from it.

Amidst all the totally weird and wrong interactions they’ve had, there’s also been a sliver of chemistry and mutual attraction…it’s just a matter of neither knowing what the heck to do with such things.

9_ses

Prison School – 08

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Yours truly should have known, but my “manly feelings” were also manipulated, as I, like Shingo, stopped worrying about what was or wasn’t too good to be true and actually roll with the idea of a random girl at Shingo’s school being legitimately into him. After all, Chiyo can’t be the only one who likes having the guys around, right? Well, it’s not really a yes or no question.

But let’s just say for most of the episode and all of last week, Anzu was putting on an act. Unlike Chiyo, who puts herself at risk trying to warn Kiyoshi of the impending plot afoot (writing it in Go stones…so refined!), Anzu is acting on behalf of the Underground Student Council, in exchange for Mari’s recommendation she be named to the executive committee next year. She was a part of DTO…but by the end, she’s almost responsible for foiling it.

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Why does she do that? Well, everything was going according to plan, with cheek-pinching about to move on to something else, until Shingo just cant sit there and watch some random kid in the park get sand thrown at him by his friends. When he yells at them too harshly, they cry, and the kid who was getting bullyed throws sand on him. 

This isn’t just a show about T&A. It’s a show about fate and justice; friendship and forgiveness. The confessions that take place in that park aren’t of love between Shingo and Anzu. Shingo confesses to being a snitch, and can’t betray his friends anymore. But then Anzu ‘fesses up about being appointed by Mari to seduce him as part of a plan to get the boys expelled.

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Of course, Anzu was only one of Mari’s variables in her devastatingly intricate scheme, which involved using Meiko’s voluptuousness and lack of punishing Andre to drive him mad until he’s chasing cardboard cutouts, and finally, the real thing. When Meiko offers to whip him if he just comes through the fence, Andre can’t help himself, pushes through the wire (which had already been cut), and is guilty of the boys’ second breakout. If Shingo doesn’t get back in time, that will be three strikes, and they’ll be out. Baseball Metaphor!

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In the time Anzu’s spent with him, culminating in those shared confessions, she can no longer play him any more than he can play Kiyoshi and the others. So she does everything she can to get him back to school on time. At first, their getting along seemed all to easy, then was revealed to be an artificial fondness that then became real. I just hope this isn’t the last we see of these two.

If Mari and the council have their way, however, it will be…and the boys won’t get to experience “seaside school” in the summer, when the girls hold a wet t-shirt contest. While I’m almost positive that’s just bullshit to get them riled up, the fact they believe her so intensely is pretty hilarious.

In fact, it’s that dream of transparent tops that move Kiyoshi, Gakuto, Andre and Joe to put their wishes and hopes together and chant for Shingo’s on-time return. Shingo is almost hit by a truck, but avoids it, and that truck happens to be the laundry truck for the school! Almost as if the universe is rewarding him for his honesty, eh?

Well, not quite: the kicker in DTO is that the other four inmates were put to work adjusting how the door to the stockade opens so it slides rather than pushes in, so Shingo can’t open it, and he’s outside when his time runs out. Dayum, that is one ice cold checkmate.

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Happily, as they await their impending expulsion, Shingo prostrates himself and apologizes profusely for what he’s done…and he’s forgiven, just like that. Well, until he mentions details of what happened with him and Anzu; then they lay into him, but when they’re done, they’re all of them satisfied and even. Mari may have gotten them expelled, but she failed to break their brotherly bonds.

Mari all but smacks her dad in the face with the official school regulations and how the boys are indeed guilty of breaking out three times. Chiyo is there to argue their case, but her pleas are shouted down by Kiyoshi and her confederates. This is one of those times you’d really wish her dad the chairman had some backbone, but considering how awkward and awful he feels about Mari seeing so many overt glimpses of his fetish, he probably feels he has no moral ground to stand on, even if Chiyo were to back him up in the pro-boys corner.

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So, is that that? Will the end of the week after next be all she wrote for our lads? Or is the festive victory celebration by the council—complete with cake, sparkling cider, and Meiko getting her thong caught on the door after doing fingertip pullups—premature? For her part, Anzu tells her boss how she ended up failing her mission when she fell for the target, but Mari lets her off the hook, while ordering surveillance on her as soon as she’s out of the room.

As for the boys, because their bonds have never been stronger, and their hopes somewhat miraculously reached Shingo, they belive anything is possible. They’re not done yet. They’ve got allies in Chiyo and maybe Anzu and the director, they have each other, and they have at least a couple of weeks. Can they somehow overturn the verdict of the council? Will they turn DTO’s victory into a defeat? I hope so.

10_ses

Prison School – 06

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You wouldn’t think a day in which Kiyoshi was shanked in the ass by a tree branch and almost peed on by Hana would end up being a good day for him, but that’s the kind of crazy world Prison School is. There’s no situation too inappropriate or absurd that won’t befall its protagonist, and yet he remains resolutely human and moral.

Knowing a rift has formed between Kiyoshi and Shingo, Mari aims to drive a large, voluptuous wedge right through that rift, widening it. That wedge is Meiko, who begins giving Shingo special attention treatment, plying him with sweet treats and panoramic views in order to make him a snitch. Shingo, still pissed about his extended sentence, obliges all too easily.

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What’s weird and kind of endearing about Meiko is that while she’s built like a brick shithouse, the show makes sure to keep ambiguous whether she’s aware of how seductive she is. Her inner thoughts are more interested in making sure she doesn’t say something to upset Mari, who will then sic her crows on her. Regardless of her self-awareness, the sound effects employed whenever she’s doing something are pretty amazing.

With an inmate who will do whatever they want, Mari decides to implement a plan to stir up trouble, after intentionally applying more stress and punishment to the other inmates (or, to Andre’s detriment, less punishment). Her target is Joe, the least stable of the quintet, who loses it when it appears a crow is killing his beloved ants.

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He’s just waking up when he notices Meiko and Shingo talking in the shadows, but Kiyoshi still finds it odd that the entire council is out in force in the schoolyard. Then Joe produces a branch-as-shank and lunges at Mari, and something happens the president did not expect: a man protected her from harm. And in front of half the school watching from the windows. Unfortunately, his good deed is overshadowed by the fact the branch went up his ass, creating a great deal of blood. …And the fact Mari still despises men.

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Joe is thrown in solitary (after being told the crow was only “bathing” in ants as a grooming exercise, not killing them; a neat bit of ornithology mixed into our ecchi comedy!), and Kiyoshi is escorted to the nurse’s office…by Hana. Last week Hana promised she’d pay Kiyoshi back, and after being unable to force him to pee into a jug, she decides to accelerate her plan and pee on him herself. Things get pretty far, with her shedding her leggings and panties, but Chiyo inadvertently, temporarily saves Kiyoshi when she pays a visit to the nurse’s office.

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Unfortunately, that also means Hana and Kiyoshi have to hide from her, under the bed, occupying as little space as possible to avoid detection. As neither Kiyoshi or Hana are wearing underwear, Hana is a girl, and Kiyoshi is a guy, things outside his control start to happen. He’s bailed out again when Hana passes out, either due to the heat or from overexcitement.

In any case, Kiyoshi and Hana continue their very bizarre kinky physical relationship rooted in dominance and tit-for-tat; the precise opposite of the wholesome romance he desires with Chiyo (or, in his own words, “coming on to her just enough that she doesnt’ think he’s a creep”). While that’s going on, Mari’s dad the Chairman has his own close call when Mari visits him in his office…just as he’s opening a latin ass jerk-off device he ordered from Amazon(ess). That latest blunder from her dad kills any goodwill Kiyoshi might have created by saving Mari from Joe.

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But his heroism wasn’t all for naught: he didn’t just save Mari from a shanking; he saved Joe from possible arrest and internment at a real prison, something Joe thanks Kiyoshi for, being the first inmate to break the “shunning line” set by Shingo. At this point, even a weirdo like Joe can tell something not quite kosher is up with Shingo, and Kiyoshi lets him know that whole lunch break situation was similarly odd.

This is good, because it means Kiyoshi’s instincts aren’t entirely blind to the council’s DTO machinations. But he still doesn’t know what’s going on, only that things are off. With Meiko offering Shingo a uniform and two hours of freedom off-campus, Shingo remains in the council’s pocket. Whether he knows it or not, he is the weapon Mari intends to use to get all the guys kicked out—something, by the way, Hana seemed reluctant to agree with at first; I must look out for that, as she has her own agenda.

9_ses

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