Super Cub – 11 – No More Enemies to Fight

When Shii’s in big trouble, Koguma answers the call…literally! She’s able to spot a snapped twig on the cat trail and find Shii awkwardly submerged in water that must be somewhere in the forties (though the fact it’s not frozen solid indicates it’s not that cold out). Even so, Koguma took a risk she could find Shii fast enough, and that Shii—who is effin’ tiny—wouldn’t suffer hypothermia.

Everything works out, as Koguma, a picture of calm and collectedness, helps Shii out of the ravine, picks up all 70-or-so pounds of her, and plops her in her front basket for the ride to her place. That’s right, Koguma stole Reiko’s dream of carrying Shii along this way—but quite by necessity!

Once home, Koguma draws a bath and cooks a dinner of curry udon. Reiko, whom she called earlier, arrives with Shii’s ruined Alex Moulton, takes a bath of her own, and joins the other two for dinner. It’s the first time Koguma has had company, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it; but just slurps up her udon with the others, enjoying their company.

While washing the dishes, Reiko lets Shii know—quite tactlessly!—that her Mouton is donezo. Shii breaks down, cursing winter and begging Koguma to use her Super Cub to end the wretched season. Koguma deadpans that her Cub can’t do that…and seems a little sad that it can’t.

The next day, Shii’s parents thank Koguma and Reiko with a pass good for a year’s free coffee, sandwiches, and bread items, which they begin to cash in on immediately, much to Shii’s relief. If Shii ever thought they’d stop hanging out with her after her incident in the creek, then she needs to have more faith in her friends!

Shii gets what Koguma ruthlessly declares a “granny bike”, and the days of Winter continue on, only with no more preparations to make to their bikes or clothes. Then one morning Koguma hears on the radio that the cherry blossomes have bloomed early in Kagoshima. She proposes they go see them…together, escaping the winter by going where—as far as those trees are concerned—it’s already over.

It’s just what Shii needs to cheer up, and when she takes Koguma’s hands in friendship, Koguma’s world colors up bolder and faster than ever. She recounts how when it was her trudging her way uphill on her bike that she saw Shii glide past her on her Moulton, eventually inspiring her to buy her Cub, which led to her befriending Reiko.

Shii may not know it, but this all started with Koguma chasing her and her cooler, faster bike. What better way to thank her for the inspiration by giving her an early taste of spring?

Super Cub – 06 – Forbidden Joyride

Koguma has been busy since we last saw her: she has her motorcycle license and Shino bored out her Cub into a 52cc Type II Motorbike, meaning she’s no longer limited to 30 kph. It may not be a fire-breaking chopper, but every little improvement to her Cub makes Koguma feeling a little more liberated.

It looks like she’ll be riding the bus with the rest of her class on their trip to Kamakura, though since Reiko will be with her, it’s not all bad. Reiko wants to see the Shonan Bullet Road, but absent motorbikes to ride on that, Koguma would rather splurge on some tasty local cuisine. And she’s super excited about that food—a far cry from the plain konbini-bought microwavable meals she usually sticks to.

So it’s heartbreaking when she wakes up with a low fever and has to stay home. But then, a few hours later, her fever breaks. When she kicks a rock in frustration, it skips right over to her Cub and bounces off the exhaust, and it’s as if the universe is telling Koguma what she must do.

Donning her gym jacket (it’s a uniform!) and calling Reiko to announce her plans, Koguma plots a course and hits to Kamakura on her Cub. Reiko warns her to be careful and turn back if she runs into any problems, but promises to have her back when she arrives.

Like most times when Rin rode herself to campsites, it was a blessing in disguise that Koguma’s temporary fever kept her off that bus. Her solitary ride gives her more time with her Cub in a new place, and tests her endurance and navigating skills.

The scenery is also awesome, especially when she looks out into the sky from Fuji-san’s fifth station or riding the Shonan Bullet Road beside Sagami Bay. Koguma built some detours into her trip so she wouldn’t arrive at the hotel to early, so it’s adorable when she pulls in just seconds before the class bus to a relieved and elated Reiko.

As promised, Reiko stands right beside Koguma as she gets a talking-to from the faculty, but it’s not like they can turn her away, so instead they bar her from riding her motorbike for the remainder of the class trip. They believe she’s really sorry, but the looks she and Reiko exchange indicate otherwise!

She and Reiko hit the baths, and she tells Reiko how far up Fuji-san she went, and how she stole a march on Reiko by riding the Bullet Road before her. After a soak Koguma revels in the sumptuous evening feast, and before the two fall asleep in their adjacent futons, they form a plan of action for tomorrow’s designated free time.

That plan involves locating her Cub, retracting its rear footrests, and sneaking off to ride double or “two-up” on the Bullet Road. Reiko even brought a light helmet along for emergencies, and is wearing just the brightest, most infectious smile as she holds Koguma tight from behind.

It’s not just about the ride itself that’s so invigorating, but the fact that they’re breakin’ the rules. The teachers can’t clip these lovely bike wives’ wings—they’re gonna fly! While resting at a station, Reiko admits that she kinda broke her Cub during her summer adventure on Fuji-san, so she’ll need to procure a new one. Fortunately, she has a lead on some rare, out-of-production, and very sought-after Hunter Cubs.

As for Koguma’s Super Cub, Reiko says she’ll probably be able to keep riding it the rest of her life, and that prospect really heightens Koguma’s world. When the two hop back on and continue their forbidden joyride, positively  bathing in lush, vivid greens and blues of their fast-moving surroundings, Koguma declares “I’m not going to change. I don’t want to change. I’m going to keep riding forever…Together with my Super Cub.”

Yuru Camp△ – 12 (Fin) – Campvengers: Tentgame

The final episode of Yuru Camp’s first season ends somewhat confusingly with flash-forward that starts exactly how the previous episode ended: with Rin on a bike. Only this time instead of a moped it’s a motorcycle (possibly her grandpa’s), and ten years have passed. Rin meets up with Chiaki, Aoi, and Ena at Asagiri campground, which has presumably become a Christmas tradition ever since the first time.

It’s mentioned that Nadeshiko founded a camping equipment company that really took off, and just when I’m expecting her to arrive by helicopter, she arrives instead by rocket-powered tent instead—like the one in the OP! Turns out Nadeshiko of the present is merely musing about what the future might hold. Then Rin returns with the gas, ginger, and no alcohol for Toba-sensei, and she’s welcomed home.

While Aoi, Ena, and Chiaki take their baths first, Rin and Nadeshiko wonder why Toba-sensei isn’t with her boyfriend for Christmas, referring to the capable young lad who helped them start their fire on Lake Shibire. Turns out that wasn’t her boyfriend or her brother, but her kid sister, who is often mistaken for a boy. Their father instilled in them a love of camping, just as Rin’s gramps did for her.

Then it’s Rin, Nadeshiko and Toba-sensei’s turn to bathe, and upon returning find that everyone is sporting a “Shimarin Bun” courtesy of Ena, hairstylin’ extraordinaire. Nadeshiko wants the same treatment, and then agrees to take a group picture without realizing that Ena actually gave her more of a Cactuar-esque bun.

It’s a bit too early to turn in, so on Chiaki’s suggestion, they avail themselves of the streaming service she signed up for prior to the trip so they could watch media to their hearts’ content. While I’d normally object to breaking out the technology when they’re supposed to be enjoying the untouched wilderness, it’s a cold night, and they’re basically running out the clock until they’re sleepy enough to retire, so I’m fine with it.

Rin and Nadeshiko officially share a tent for the first time here, first lying outside and watching the starry sky. They talk about Moped Journey, and how part of it took place where Nadeshiko is from. Rin thinks she’ll be working for new years, while Nadeshiko isn’t having luck finding a job. Before Nadeshiko nods off while smiling, she says they should go camping lots more next year. Rin in turn smiles and agrees. It’s one of many lovely, quite moments of friendship this series has so excelled at.

Rin wakes up to a 5:00 AM alarm, and wakes Nadeshiko, who is still so out of it she wishes Rin a Happy New Year a week too early. Before the sun rises over a very blue Fuji-san, Rin helps out as Nadeshiko prepares a traditional Japanese breakfast, using leftover meat and broth from the sukiyaki and the ginger Rin bought to make Yamato stew to go with grilled salmon and Rin’s veggie and natto miso soup.

Everyone gets up to break their fast together, and suddenly the sun emerges from behind Fuji-san. It’s as beautiful a sight as you will ever see—whether in this episode or in real life—as all sunrises call to mind rebirth, redemption, and new beginnings in general. And this Christmas Camping trip was certainly the beginning of friendships which could last well past Nadeshiko’s ten-year look forward.

After breakfast, the six young women break camp, Sakura arrives to take Nadeshiko and Ena home, Toba-sensei drives Aoi and Chiaki home, and Rin rides home herself. A bit later, while Rin is working at the bookstore, she’s approached by Ena to buy a camping book, having liked her first experience camping in cold weather.

Meanwhile, Chiaki tells Aoi and Nadeshiko that she tried to recruit Ena while they were camping, but Ena isn’t quite ready to quit the “Going Home Club”.  And so, expecting to remain in their mail slot of a club room for the foreseeable future the trio gives it a top-to-bottom cleaning.

While walking home, Nadeshiko’s worries about seeking employment are allayed by a text from Rin, who puts her in contact with Ena, who has a temp job writing New Years cards and tells Nadeshiko there’s a position for her. This…This is how Nadeshiko’s ground-up camping supply empire gets started! Roll credits.

After the credits, Nadeshiko makes a solitary journey by bike to the same seaside campsite where Rin soloed back in the first episode, when I all but immediately fell in love with this series. As soon as she’s all set up (complete with her retro gas lamp), she gets a text from Rin asking what she’s up to.

Nadeshiko says she’s soloing; so is Rin. Rin asks where; Nadeshiko decides to make it a guessing game based on the photos. Rin sends back a photo fo the exact same place, only with Nadeshiko in the shot—they went to the same place! It’s such a beautiful moment of friendship I’m not ashamed to say I teared up a bit!

It’s pretty much the perfect epilogue, and while viewers of Yuru Camp would have to wait three excruciating years for more Rin and Nadeshiko (including 2020, which was more like ten years), All I need to do is hit “Next Episode” to continue following their story in Yuru Camp Season 2!

The Promised Neverland – 15 – The Perfect Hideout

Emma, Ray, and their convoy of kids are ready to leave the safety of Sonju and Mujika’s forest tunnels and head to the location indicated by William Minerva’s pen. They’re trained and prepared to survive and run or defend themselves from the threats that may arise.

Mujika and Emma seem to have formed a genuine friendship, and Mujika gives Emma an ornate amulet as a going-away gift and to protect her. However, we learn from Sonju once the kids are gone that his intentions are less benign. Mujika pointed out that if they had turned the kids in to the farm they’d have been rewarded handsomely. But Sonju has other plans.

Their religion doesn’t forbid him from hunting or eating wild animals, so by letting these kids go, they will eventually breed, creating of a “wild herd” of humans he’ll be able to hunt without forsaking his faith. His face grows especially monstrous as he looks forward to the day he can eat human meat. Yikes!

Regardless of his long term plans, the fact is Sonju let this group of kids go and doesn’t intend to eat them. In fact, he rides back to where the farm pursuers are still searching and kills one of their trackers. The kids head out into the wastelands where demons rarely go, but when they reach the location indicated by Minerva’s pen, there’s nothing there.

Fortunately, the fact they’ve arrived at this spot unlocks more information from the pen. Once the password “HISTORY” is inputted, a detailed map displays, and a sliding door in the ground reveals a hidden hatch, Zelda-style. The group descends the ladder and begins to explore the space. Emma eventually finds a switch, and to everyone’s great joy, it works!

The lights reveal a fully-functional shelter, complete with cooking facilities, a dining hall, a library, a greenhouse with grow lights, a bathroom with hot water, and a security room with cameras on all parts of the surface. There’s even a piano, a radio, and a pantry curiously half-stocked with food.

There’s also a handwritten note from Minerva congratulating them for finding the shelter, which is theirs to use. Emma, Ray, and the kids immediately settle into the new digs, which seem at all times to be an all-too-good-to-be-true gift from heaven above.

Ray successfully finds the frequency of the 8:00 PM reports from the farms, and will be tuning back in daily to gain intel. Now that they have a shelter and the means of supporting themselves indefinitely, Emma already wants to move on to the next stage of the plan: rescue the remaining family at the farm.

She’s looking ahead even though they haven’t quite finished exploring the shelter. They’ve found all the good rooms, but there are clearly some not-so-good rooms, as initially found by Yvette, the walls of the dorms are strewn with the manic scrawling of people who lived there previously, and were either going mad from boredom or from suffering something more sinister.

Emma uses the pen to unlock a special door that leads to a small room with a payphone, which immediately rings when they enter. She picks up the receiver, and William Minerva is on the other end of the line. Is it a recording, or the man himself? What is the nature of those creepy messages on the dorm walls? Is this shelter really safe, or are those hidden passageways a cause for concern? I can’t help but feel after catching so many breaks since escaping the farm, their streak of good fortune may have run out…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 07 – Stuck On You

Rin and Alice are in full improv mode, as neither expected to have Iska in their custody at the end of the day at Neutral City. But they do, so they have to deal with it. Even Alice may not be able to protect him from his doom in the Sovereignty’s capital, so they head for Nebulis Province 13, Alcatroz, also known as the Prison Sector.

Risya orders Unit N07 to infiltrate the Sovereignty and rescue Iska as part of the larger plan to capture the Queen. They’ll pass through the border with fake Astral Crests prepared by the research unit. Jhin deftly pantomimes placing a fake crest on Mismis’ hidden real one, hopefully allying suspicion that she’s a real witch…for now.

Once Alice and Rin arrive at Alcatroz’ designated hotel for royals, Rin recommends she stay with the handcuffed prisoner at all times while Alice stays in an adjacent suite. When Iska woke up in the car, he voiced his “disappointment” in Alice, who is clearly hurt by the breach of trust caused by Rin’s meddling.

Rin breaches that trust again, twisting her master’s orders to “take good care” of Iska by cutting her own hand with a fruit knife to serve as an excuse for self-defense when she kills him. It’s clear at this point Rin has gone rogue, believing Alice no longer capable of objectivity. Unfortunately, even a cuffed Iska is able to defend himself from her attacks, and Alice re-enters the room to find the two grappling on the couch and puts an immediate stop to it.

Mismis, Jhin, and Nene successfully pass the border and enter the Prison Sector, where Risya briefly meets up to indicate their next destination, the offshore Ollelugan Prison Tower. But she’s hiding the true nature of her mission when she splits back off from N07. Jhin eventually catches on that their unit may not be here for the explicit reasons Risya stated.

Alice decides to chain herself to Iska (unlike with Rin he’ll be hard-pressed to stop her attacks without his swords), but also turns into a complete airhead when Iska brings up the blatantly glaring question of how the two of them will use the toilet, bathe, and sleep while so connected.

Alice has Rin temporarily disconnect them so she can take a bath, only for that bath to kill even more of her brain cells, such that she comes out of the bathroom butt naked but for a loosely hanging towel. As such, Iska sees the positively massive astral crest on her back, and Alice forgets her modesty altogether, as she’s suddenly primarily concerned with what Iska thinks of both her crest—and her in general.

Iska tells Alice about Mismis (without using her name): his captain and an Imperial soldier who is now a “witch” due to gaining a crest, and how he still respects her regardless of whether she’s a witch or has a crest. He doesn’t place the blame for a century of war on the crests, but due to the ideas and positions that divide them due to their opposite nations of origin.

He’s basically saying he doesn’t consider the crest to be the mark of a witch or devil, and doesn’t fight because of them. As for how he regards Alice, he considers her a “rival on the battlefield”, which is precisely what she wanted to hear: that the two of them are equals in his eyes. Now all she needs to do is strip him down so she can see him naked, and they’ll be even for the night!

As N07 continues their separate infiltration, Risya reaches her destination as laid out by the council: the special cell of Salinger, AKA “The Transcendent Demon”—a ripped but bored-looking bishounen who may just be itching for some action, any action. And since it’s Risya releasing him, he just might fight on her side…for a time. As for me, I’m designating both him and Risya wild cards for now.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 05 – A Clockwork Araragi

Koyomi finds himself face-to-face with Kanbaru’s late mother Gaen Tooe in all her glory, but unlike Princess Kiss-Shot, being in her presence too long doesn’t make him suicidal. It’s a rare thing indeed for Koyomi to converse in such an intimate setting with an adult woman—again, Shinobu excluded—a cougar, if you will, made more strange by the fact she’s not even alive on Koyomi’s side.

Her frisky teasing and facial features remind him of Kanbaru, but there’s a decided sharp edge to her, quite becoming of a mother who left a monkey’s paw to her daughter—which was really a part of herself she split off. I like her leitmotif, which includes a cello, like her contemporary, Kaiki Deishu.

Tooe’s first piece of advice to a very nervous and confused Koyomi trying to figure out what’s going on is this: “knowing and not knowing don’t matter.” As proof, she infers just about everything about Koyomi’s situation and the state of his world, even though she entered the bath knowing nothing.

Tooe also underscores the necessity of properly facing your other side, as she and Izuko did, and as Suruga will have to do one day (referencing Hanamonogatari, which chronologically takes place a month after Zoku). Face it and acknowledge it not as a rival or blood enemy, but a partner, be it light or dark.

She also tells Koyomi to tell Suruga when he sees her next that her mother told her “don’t be like me.” She then mysteriously vanishes, leaving nothing but scratch marks on Koyomi’s back reading “Naoetsu High.”

When Dr. Ononoki inspects Koyomi’s back when they meet back up, the marks are gone, but Koyomi still thinks his old high school should be his next destination. Ononoki decides they’ll split up; she’ll visit Shinobu again to see if she’ll say anything else she might’ve wanted to say to Koyomi but couldn’t due tot he time limit.

Then she’ll search for Black Hanekawa to try to learn why she saved Koyomi from the Rainy Devil. Both tasks are designed specifically so she can avoid accompanying Koyomi to Naoetsu High, suggesting that while Koyomi’s influence has changed her personality and viewpoint, there’s still an innate part of her that is of this world, which understands Koyomi ultimately has to figure this out on his own.

To blend in at Naoetsu, Koyomi heads home to change into his uniform, only to discover it’s a girl’s uniform. One that, when he puts it on, actually fits pretty well. It would seem, then, that Koyomi’s theory about his other side in this world being Ougi was correct; for one thing, Ougi’s uniform is very baggy, as if it was meant for someone with a larger build—like Koyomi.

As he cross dresses without hesitation and rides his bike to school once more, Koyomi is extrmely cognizant of the fact that while he may have influenced a bit here and there in this world, it’s already starting to influence him, changing him into Ougi, which would mean Araragi Koyomi as we know him would cease to exist.

Meanwhile, after a fruitless visit to Shinobu’s, Ononoki finds Hanekawa hanging out with Mayoi and Kuchinawa…only it’s not Black Hanekawa, it’s Mini Hanekawa. Mayoi explains Hanekawa has many other sides, including her younger self. They’re all toasting the approaching end of this story, wherein this entire alternate world is revealed as nothing but the “product of a grand misunderstanding.”

That end is imminent because Koyomi is drawing closer and closer to noticing and facing his other side, Oshino Ougi. Strolling down the corridors of his old school, it doesn’t take him long to figure out, as Tooe thought he would, which part of that school meant the most to him – the classroom isolated from time and space.

It’s here where he finds Ougi, who has been waiting a very long time for him to show up. If that first episode of Owarimonogatari was the beginning of the end, and Koyomi saving Ougi at the end of Ougi Dark the end of the end, we’ve finally reached the beginning of the end of the epilogue, where no doubt Koyomi will suss out why this world exists, why he’s here, and how to return home—where he may be between titles, but at least the Karens are tall and the Surugas aren’t homicidal.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 04 – A Disaster Visited Upon a Fragile World

Meeting the Heart-Under-Blade of this world is not what Araragi expected. Before he knows it, he feels compelled not only to bend the knee, but admonish himself in his thoughts whenever he says anything to her, culminating in him getting suicidal thoughts. Turns out that’s what happens with anyone (other than Ononoki) in her presence; her glory is just too great for any mortal to behold.

But in their short time together, Shinobu tells him a great many things he hadn’t considered, like the very real possibility he’s not the “victim” of this incident, as he has thusfar assumed, but a negative influence on her world, throwing it and everyone inhabiting it out of balance. Basically, he has to return to his world, and is on the right path, but he won’t be able to do it alone; he’ll need aid.

When Ononoki lists all of the qualifications required for said aid, a part of me hoped Senjougahara Hitagi’s name would come up—perhaps she’s a specialist in this world?—but the answer is the most obvious: Ononoki herself.

After his encounter with Shinobu, Koyomi immediately starts to notice the so-far subtle effect his presence in this world is having on those closest to him, particularly Sodachi. But while Tsukihi is giving him a compulsory face wash, he spots the other Koyomi in the reflection of the water in the sink.

After contemplating the possibility his own home might be the gate back to his world, Ononoki brings up an alternative plan: simply learn to live here and let the world change him, rather than the other way around. Perhaps his influence is only negative because he’s fighting the reality of this place; “giving up”, so to speak, could reverse the direction of influence.

Koyomi tables this idea, as he’s not sure it’s even achievable – even if he outwardly goes along with everything, there’s still his subconscious to consider, not to mention he has too much to do in that world to leave it now.

So instead it’s off to Kanbaru’s. Ononoki is supremely confident she can hold the Rainy Devil off indefinitely, and certainly as long as Koyomi needs to do. When simply looking in the reflection of the cypress bath nets no result, he strips and takes a bath.

That’s when Kanbaru’s mother Gaen Tooe enters and demands to know who he is before she ends him. No empty threat, but between the Rainy Devil and Tooe, Koyomi’s Araragi Charm will hopefully be more effective on the latter.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 02 – Relax and Enjoy

Koyomi knows the story of Kanbaru Suruga’s bath sometimes reflecting the image of the person you’ll end up with someday. He’s not sure that means he’ll be able to use it to return to his world or contact Shinobu, but he thought he’d give it a try—and meet a Suruga who might not be lewd, masochistic, or immodest.

Turns out she’s none of those things. Instead, she’s the Rainy Devil: pure rage, hatred, and pain. He can’t get anywhere near the bath, and is only rescued from the devil’s wrath by Mirror Tsubasa, who is simply Black Hanekawa. She warns him not to go back to the bath without a specialist, but that makes two consecutive friends of his who are the oddity versions of themselves in this world.

If Suruga’s Mirror self is a nightmare, Mirror Oikura Sodachi is a good dream, or rather a “good ending” version of the character, who moved in with the Araragi family when she was in grade school and is now something of a third sister to Koyomi, and thus extremely affectionate towards him. Still, as happy and blessed as she feels, a part of her can’t help but wonder…is it all a lie?

If you were to ask Mirror Nadeko, AKA Kuchinawa-san, the answer is no—and Koyomi gets to ask her, thanks to Big Sis Mayoi inviting her predecessor to the shrine to help him work through his predicament. Mayoi also tells Koyomi to loosen up and enjoy himself, and she starts imbibing bottle after bottle of sake.

Kuchinawa knows about mirrors; the root of the Japanese word for mirror is “serpent’s eye”, and mirrors were first used as a holy instrument, not to reflect an image, but to reflect its truth. Put simply, each and every person Koyomi has met so far is no less the real person as the ones he knows in his own world.

The mirror he finds himself in doesn’t just flip them left-to-right, but shows the other side of those people. That explains why Tsukihi is the same; she has no other sides. If this world is, as he previously considered, the product of an oddity that exists for a reason, perhaps the key to dealing with that oddity (if that’s what it is) is to be exposed to and accept these other sides as equally valid…

Domestic na Kanojo – 02 – Not So Strange After All

When Rui interrupts Natsuo’s kiss, she silently judges him as she roughly drags her sister to her bedroom. In retrospect, kissing an unconscious Hina definitely wasn’t his finest moment, even if it was a kiss meant to put a lid on his crush on her now that they’re step-siblings.

The next day at school, a late, bed-headed Natsuo learns that Rui has transferred to his school, and she’s immediately the talk of the school due to her being cute. Natsuo isn’t clear enough with his words, and gets Rui to think he wants them to act like strangers.

But the mere fact they went off into the courtyard together to have a private chat is suspicious enough to Natsuo’s classmates, who are well aware both he and Rui snuck out of the mixer together. When he meets with Hina, she asks if she kissed him while she was drunk last night, and apologizes in advance if she’s too “relaxed” at home again.

Rui was surrounded by girls in the morning, but by afternoon she’s all alone; Natsuo knows something’s up and has a pretty good idea: Rui is socially awkward, standoffish and fairly tactless. It’s as difficult for her to make and keep friends as it is easy for her big sister.

Natsuo offers to help her by pretending to be a (girl) classmate, and Rui is still her usual self-defeatingly honest self, but the two end up engaged in a dialogue that soon captures the attention of the entire class, who think some kind of skit is going on. Suddenly, Rui doesn’t seem so hard to approach, now that they know who they’re dealing with.

That night, a nude Natsuo predictably walks in on Rui in the bath, but thank goodness for once it doesn’t result in a blood-curdling scream and/or punch. As Rui quite logically points out, there’s nothing he or she haven’t seen before (interesting considering she once said to “forget” their tryst ever happened).

Rather than send him out, Rui calmly invites him in, and it’s Natsuo who hesitates. First of all, she wants to thank him for giving her a helping hand in breaking the ice with her class. But she’s also curious about why he tried to kiss Hina.

At first she dismissed him as an indiscriminate womanizer, but spending the day at school changed her mind about that. So instead, she wonders if he was merely trying to cheer her up in light of her recent boyfriend troubles.

Obviously, Natsuo doesn’t know about Hina’s boyfriend troubles. After the three step-siblings have dinner alone together when their newlywed folks go out for dinner (with Rui emerging as the best cook of the sisters by far), Natsuo brings up the subject, and Hina just as quickly deflects.

In a spot of bad timing, her boyfriend Shuu calls and she goes out to the front of the house to talk to him, insisting Natsuo not go outside with her. Nearly a half-hour later she rushes in, shaking and clearly upset, but still refuses to admit to Natsuo that she’s hurting.

Then there’s a knock at the door and the doorbell rings repeatedly, and both Hina and Natsuo assume its Shuu. Rui ends up the one to get the door, and it’s just their folks, a little tipsy from celebrating their marriage becoming official.

In his first days as stepbrother to both Rui and Hina, Natsuo is already trying to help them with their troubles. Rui will probably be fine with making friends in class, but Hina’s problems will be tougher to tackle, especially since she’s so reluctant to be helped (and she’s well within her rights, as an adult, to not want to seek help from a kid).

Regardless of whether he can help Hina, the fact is Natsuo’s new family and living situation is not nearly as crazy as the initial premise indicated. Whatever he may have done with Rui in the past, and however he feels about Hina, a new and powerful element has been introduced to his relationships with both: he’s unconditionally there for them, and doubtless they’re there for him.

Bloom Into You – 11 – Working from Incomplete Blueprints

The StuCo summer rehearsal camp seems like a whole world of trouble for Touko and Yuu, not to mention Sayaka, and the three only grow more nervous and excited as the day turns to night and relatively normal StuCo operations switch to a bath and sleepover setting.

For her part, Yuu is committed to not letting herself get too flustered while in the bath with Touko (or at least not appearing as such), and Touko and Sayaka take her complete lack of hesitation in stripping down to be “going too fast.”

But once they’re in the bath together as a trio, they calm down, as all three know it’s just not the right environment to make a move, were a move to be made, due to the very presence of three of them. Were it just Touko and Yuu, or Sayaka and Yuu, or Sayaka and Touko, things might be different, but each serves as a firewall for the other, resulting in a less romantic and more collegial vibe, both before and during bedtime.

I particularly liked the three lying awake, wondering if the others were similarly awake, voicing to themselves the impossibility of anything happening that night. But while there’s perhaps a bit of frustration from being “blocked” by one another, most of what they feel is relief it’s the three of them. After all, they have a play to get down, such distractions are for another time…if they’re for any time at all!

With it thus established that no “first moves” will be made by any of the three, day two arrives with much less anticipation and suspense. But the day also marks the arrival of Tomoyuki Ichigaya to coach up the council. Not only is he in Hakozaki-sensei’s theater troupe, but he was a former student at their school, a member of the student council…and as such was close to Mio.

Kanno’s play is about a girl known as three different things based on who is remembering. Touko has spent so long trying to mold herself into a perfect replica of her sister Mio, she never stopped to wonder who Mio really was, beyond the physical manifestation of perfection she saw as a little girl.

She never considered that maybe what she knew of Mio was just one small piece of a much larger tapestry. Like the three people who know her character in the play, she’s working without the full picture she thought she had, which means she isn’t as perfect replica as she thought.

Indeed, according to Ichigaya, Touko has already surpassed Mio as a StuCo prez, and while he himself doesn’t have the full picture of Touko, we know that she’s been working a hell of a lot harder than he claims Mio worked. Mio seems to be someone who used the council as her own personal force of worker bees, using her charm to get them to do her bidding. And Ichigaya maintains that he and the others didn’t necessarily feel taken advantage of, since they genuinely liked Mio and it was fun being around her.

Still, this is a big blow to Touko, and she can’t hide how it affects her from either Yuu or Touko. Further, Touko can tell from just one little look from Yuu that she’ll be there for her, should she tell her what’s up. Touko wants to just melt into Yuu’s arms and bathe in her kindness, but is still worried about taking that kindness for granted too often, leading to it “drying up.”

Of course, as Yuu has said, that will never happen, but Touko holds back anyway. Instead, she sits back with Sayaka as the three kohais play with fireworks, content with their more old-fashioned sparklers. Sayaka goes first, asking about what she talked about with Ichigaya, and admitting she knows he was in Mio’s council.

Touko mentions the discrepancy between his memories of her sister and her own, and how she now feels lost now knowing she never had a “complete blueprint” to work from. Sayaka apologizes for not mentioning Ichigaya connection before, but Touko doesn’t blame her, doesn’t mind her knowing, and thanks her for worrying about her, which brings a bashful smile to Sayaka’s face. All the while, Yuu watches the two from afar, wondering what they’re talking about…and why Touko felt she couldn’t come to her.

Things seemed to slow down a bit this week, and while it may just be me noticing now, but some of the animation took a bit of a nosedive in quality, which was pretty distracting. Nevertheless, Touko’s Mio revelation is an crucial development going forward.

SSSS.Gridman – 06 – The God who Went to a City School

“They shouldn’t be making episodes without kaiju!” proclaims Akane while at the Starbows having coffee with Shou. It’s a meta comment on the episode they’re in, which has no big kaiju battle. The resulting outing is largely a return to the quiet, normal, naturalistic sights and sounds of city life that distinguished the first episode, before All Hell Broke Loose.

And yet, the city always returns to that state after a kaiju battle. None of Yuuta’s classmates remember anything about the battle during their field trip, and because there’s no kaiju battle this week, he, Rikka and Shou are isolated from each other for the bulk of the episode.

Something sticking in Yuuta’s mind is Akane’s words to him, which suggest she has memories of the battles just as he does. He just needs one more push to learn at least some of the truth about her, and he gets that. But not before Akane puts out a hit on Yuuta, telling Anti that the two are one and the same.

The silences in this episode, or rather areas where there’s nothing but ambient sounds, are well-placed, and as such I really felt Rikka’s boredom of lounging around the house then milling through stores on a hot summer day.

It’s clearly a relief to her when she encounters Anti, who is not only hungry but also in great need of a bath. Rikka’s scenes with Anti further establish her as someone kind and generous with a good heart—someone Yuuta shouldn’t be so reticent about talking to.

When he can’t quite approach Rikka to discuss recent events, he tries the junk store, but she’s out. Then he’s confronted in an alley by a small girl who seems to revel in the creepiness of her own voice. She claims to be a kaiju, and grows to the size of a catbus to prove it. She’s not there to fight, but rather to repay Yuuta for something he doesn’t remember doing.

I just got done saying last week that I really don’t mind not having all the answers about what’s going on and why, beyond the fact that Akane makes the kaiju Yuuta fights. But the little stinky kaiju girl gets on a train with Yuuta and proceeds to provide some answers.

The city in which Yuuta lives is essentially ruled by Akane, whose lonely heart is being used by the outrageous-looking being we know as Alexis. Thus she creates kaiju who then go on rampages, constantly knocking down and remaking the city into something of a kaiju itself, while eliminating people or things she simply doesn’t like.

Beyond the confines of the city is a great fog, and then nothing, the kaiju continues. Thus, Akane is basically the city’s god, deciding what exists, stays, or goes. But because Akane is hurting and killing people, Yuuta knows what he has to do, which I imagine means confronting her soon.

In addition to ordering Anti to kill Yuuta, Akane ends up running into Shou at the bookstore, and then having coffee. He sole reason for interacting with him is to gather more info on Yuuta, just in case Anti didn’t fully understand her orders and fails. The thing is, Shou eventually catches on that Akane has no real interest in him, and stays loyal to Yuuta by saying nothing.

As for Anti, who now has a full belly and is squeaky clean thanks to Rikka’s kindness, he finally locates Yuuta and attacks him, only to be deflected by the members of Neon Genesis, whom we’ve seen lurking on the episode’s periphery the whole time, keeping an eye the Gridman Alliance.

When trouble comes in the form of Anti, they’re ready, not just with weapons, but words: If you kill Yuuta, you will never be able to defeat Gridman. That’s enough to get Anti to retreat. Akane’s words ultimately weren’t convincing enough for him to go against his primary directive, just as her charm wasn’t enough to get any info from Shou.

Those two failures belong to Akane this week, and while they’re not as big or flashy as the defeat of her various kaiju in the past weeks, they are defeats nevertheless that add to her frustration and rage, which Alexis is only too happy to exploit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Akane gets to work on a new kaiju design, which Lex will then embiggen so it can wreak havoc and challenge Gridman anew.

As for Yuuta, after a long, weird day of learning some truths, he ends up back at the junk store to brief Gridman on the computer (which the store bought back). There, to his relief and joy, are Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis.

Akane may be using her godlike powers to change almost everything, but the bonds Yuuta has formed with his friends and allies remain, and they look to be ready for whatever their opponent throws at them next.

Darling in the FranXX – 08

In another episode not about the FranXX but the flawed and confused boys and girls who pilot them, the effects of everyone in a squad hitting puberty at once comes to a head (no pun intended) when the latest Klaxosaur attack uses blue goo to eat away at the pistils’ suits, causing the stamens to ogle their partially naked bodies.

The girls are hurt, mortified, and furious, especially the fact the boys kept their condition a secret as long as they did (even if it was in the middle of battle). Led by the fiery Miku, a tape line divides the dorm in two: the girls on one side, the boys on the other, and n’er the twain shall meet.

Led by the fiery Zorome, the boys don’t take this perceived shabby treatment lightly, and proceed to take advantage of every loophole Miku and the girls didn’t think of, from flaunting their own half-naked bodies after taking a dip in the lake, to claiming the dining hall (and all the food in it) for themselves.

Meanwhile, those not so enthusiastic about the gender war, like Kokoro and Mitsuru, actually find common ground in their love of the greenhouse as a place of tranquil solitude (and where Kokoro hopes to read her baby book). The one neutral party is Zero Two, who the girls eventually confront to take a side. Perhaps charmed that they came to her, she agrees to join them.

However, as usual Two goes her own path in how to best antagonize the boys, using the other girls as bait by getting the boys to accidentally barge in on them in the bath, then stealing everyone’s clothes.

Hiro gets wise, but he’s absolutely no match against Two in a foot chase that leads them to the roof, where she releases the basket of clothes into the wind. Hiro can’t help but laugh at the situation, which Zero Two agrees is a lot of fun, while hoping Hiro can think of her as a little more “human” for taking part in the war.

Despite being ordered by Dr. FranXX only to observe and report, Nana and Hachi tell both sides to knock it the ef off; after all, they need their parasites in a position to sortie at any given moment, and that just isn’t possible with all the consternation floating around.

Zero Two tells the girls they’d better stop half-assing things and say what they want to say to who they want to say it, because it’s very likely none of them will be alive much longer, considering their occupations. Both girls and boys alike start to feel bad for the other side (which is good, because they’re thinking of how the other side feels and bears rather than just themselves).

The one holdout is Miku, who runs away and hides in an off-limits dorm. There, she discovers among a vase of dead lilacs, a photo of the previous Squad 13, all of whom must’ve been wiped out. When the others join forces to find her, Miku is a wreck, but the photo and empty dorm room are a powerful, sobering message: if you don’t get to know each other, they have no chance of surviving.

With that, the two sides formally make up, with Miku rather adorably revising her stance, telling Zorome he can ogle “a little bit” as long as he doesn’t go so far. Apologies and handshakes are exchanged, and the squad recombines…but not before cleaning up the empty dorm where there predecessors lived and placing a vase of fresh lilacs by the window, a flower signifying friendship, fond memories, and youth, all of which were on full display this week.

I actually enjoyed these two past episodes in which the battle with the Klaxosaurs was either absent or pushed to the side; I’d much rather watch the members of Squad 13 continue to learn more about one another, become friends, and perhaps more…which is likely Dr. FranXX’s intention with the test squad, after all. That they’re all starting to realize they are boys and girls at once was certainly no coincidence.

Darling in the FranXX – 04

Mitsuru is alive, but he’ll never go near a cockpit with Zero Two again; it’s as if he knows he’d never survive. Despite this, and to Ichigo’s frustration, Hiro remains resolved to pilot with Two again if it means he’ll be able to be useful. Meanwhile, Two gets a scolding but ends up coldly writing off the other FranXX as weaklings who will die soon anyway.

Ichigo decides not to fight Hiro on the issue, and rather steels herself for that eventuality. As Hiro trains alone, she manages to get the rest of the team behind her, asserting her leadership role by reminding them of the stakes and how every day could be their last until they all get it together. She also encourages Ikuno to help Mitsuru, who like the rest of them surely doesn’t want to fail again.

Paying him back from the first episode, Zero Two walks in on Hiro bathing and makes another offer for them to run away together, just them and Strelizia against the world. When she senses his hesitation and fear, her mood darkens, and she asks him whether he thinks she’s just a pilot-killing monster like everyone else.

When a Klaxosaur worm appears during a docking procedure, Ichigo’s team sorties, and quickly brings the worm down, but wthout knowing where the core is, it comes back to life and is joined by a second enemy. Just like last week Ichigo’s team seems in over their head; but Nana refuses to allow Zero Two and Hiro to sortie; “Papa’s” orders.

Eventually, Zero Two and Strelizia’s transport lands at the Plantation, and she’s ordered to go with her “escort team” back to the front lines, without Hiro. When she bristles, they train their guns on her, and she says a sad “would’ve been nice” bye-bye to Hiro, filling him with regret and shame for his inaction.

He tries to right this by chasing after Zero Two and yelling through a security barrier, acknowledging his fear then and now, telling her he doesn’t think she’s a monster, and that what he wants most isn’t to pilot a FranXX, but to ride with her again.

With those words from Hiro, Zero Two shakes off her guards, rushes to Hiro’s side, and takes him through the barriers and all the way into Strelizia. Once there, Hiro wonders if he’ll really be able to pilot her again, and Two promises him that he—that they—absolutely can, and will.

When Strelizia enters the battlefield, Ichigo keeps her cool and continues to give the orders, telling Hiro and Two to go after one worm while she and the others tackle the second. It eventually becomes clear the two are really seperate ends of the same single worm, and when Ichigo & Co. end up in trouble again, Strelizia hurries to their rescue, slashing the worm in half and shattering it’s core—but not before showing Ichigo (whose face is repeated in Delphinium) a very smug face.

I was hoping, for once, that instead of moping about not being useful for yet another episode, Hiro would finally be allowed to show he could be useful again. And I got that, so I’m satisfied, even if it happened rather easily, and with likely consequences on the way.

At the same time, the pair has kinda backed their superiors into a corner: Zero Two needs a stamen who won’t die after three sorties, and Hiro is mostly fine after two and may well do fine in a third. They can’t very well put the welfare of civilization above nailing him to the wall for his disobedience.