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.

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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.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 06

The girls are in a spot: a gear has snapped clean in two, stopping the Kettenkrad, and their “last tour” in its tracks. If they can’t get it going, their chances of survival plummet. Chito can’t get it going, and Yuuri won’t help (probably aware there’s little she can do). She just cheerfully sings a little song with one lyric: “hopeless, hopeless.”

Then Yuuri spots an airplane flying in the sky, and Chito spots a woman in a white coat running after it. Hope has arrived, in the person of Ishii, who has taken up residence in an old underground aircraft hangar.

Ishii is a quietly kind yet no-nonsense person. She knows she can’t live in the base forever, so she’s using the plans she’s found to design and build an airplane to fly to the next city (the plane seen in they sky was a prototype).

More than a base, the hangar appears to be some kind of repository of aeronautical history, and just as Chito and Yuuri may be the last two people operating a Kettenkrad, Ishii is possibly the last aeronautical engineer and aviator left.

The girls help Ishii compete construction of her plane, and in exchange, she provides them with food, shelter, a bath (aaaaahhhh) and the part and repairs needed to get their ‘Krad going again, thus probably saving both their lives.

The day of the flight comes, and there’s a sense of finality and longing for the status quo that’s about to be blown to bits by the winds of progress. It won’t stay warm and calm for long; Ishii has to launch now. And she’s glad she has human witnesses for what could be the last manned flight.

After all, it’s only history if someone besides the one making it saw and documented the event. The takeoff sequence is appropriately epic in its portrayal, as is the awe in the girls’ eyes as they watch Ishii achieve flight.

For a few magnificent moments, the plane soars majestically over one of the widest and clearest views of the city we’ve yet seen; loaded with enough fuel to fly 2,000km, more than enough to reach the nearest city, just visible from Ishii’s giant telescope.

But a few moments is all the plane gets; it breaks up in midair, the pieces pathetically plummeting to the ground far, far below. Chito collapses in reaction, but Yuuri spots Ishii in a parachute, slowly descending. She’s okay, but she failed.

Still, Ishii feels a great sense of relief, to the fact she even smiles, which Yuuri interprets as her finally “embracing the hopelessness” all humans in this wrecked world must embrace in order to keep going. She falls and falls and falls, perhaps to the lowest level, but there’s every reason to believe she’ll survive.

As for Chito and Yuuri, they load up on as many ration potatoes they can find and set off in their repaired Kettenkrad, bound for still higher levels of the city. They, like Ishii and Kanazawa, are also a part of history…likely the tail end of it. When they, and whatever other scattering of remaining humans, have passed on, there will be nobody and nothing left but the ruins.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s hope somewhere out there, waiting to be found. And maybe Yuuri wants to be proved wrong.

Tsurezure Children – 11

There’s a lovely momentum to this week’s quartet of stories, befitting what may be the second-to-last episode (though I wouldn’t mind a second cour) – things seem right on the cusp of coming together for some of the more stubborn pairs, thanks in part to third parties.

Take Chizuru, who learns through Ayaka’s now active and thriving relationship, what it actually means and how it feels to be in love. There are too many coincidences for her to merely shrug this off, and too many who have heard the rumor Sugawara likes her.

As for what I consider the most emotionally close (if physically furthest away) relationship, Kana ignores Chiaki after the first kiss incident, and he thinks he’s been dumped. Kana’s friend tells her breaking up is a bit much for a muffed first kiss, and she knows that. It gets to the point where she thinks she’s ignored him enough, and starts to worry that he might hate her.

The two are so in sync, Chiaki decides to send one last message just as Kana decides to accept one last message, if he apologizes. Everything’s looking good…until she drops her phone in the tub! I’m not too too worried, though; if these two really love each other, they’re not going to let technological snafus keep them apart.

Still reeling from their technological snafu, Takase and Kanda are both still interested, but weary of making the first move, even to the point of asking for/offering pencil leads for final exams. Enter Minagawa, the third party, to tell Kanda to get them from Takase as a means to get closer.

She chickens out, but Takase, who has the easier job here, thankfully doesn’t. When Kanda runs out of lead, he tosses her more, and after the exams they’re on friendly speaking terms again; which is what they both want.

The third party in Ryouko’s case is the entire rest of her class. As she crams for the exam after so many months of slacking off like a yankee should, she gets super-self-conscious about how that class sees her, worried they’re all better than her because they studied more or something.

Akagi wants to offer support while she’s studying in class, but won’t (and orders the Prince kid to hit him if he does), since Ryouko will be alone for the actual exam, after all. We’ve seen precious little of Akagi without Ryouko around, and it’s nice to see his hands shaking in anxiety because he’s worried about his girlfriend.

Ryouko doesn’t have what you’d call a fun time during exams, but who does? When she drops her eraser, she’s even too self-conscious to raise her hand. Her classmate Patricia Shibasaki picks it up for her, and adds that she’s rooting for her. Her nerve restored, Ryouko can continue.

Tsugumomo – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: One day, Kagami Kazuya’s sakura-patterned obi, given to him by his late mother, takes the form of a blue-haired girl named Kiriha revealing she is a tsukumogami.

After saving him from an attacking amasogi, Kiriha assigns Kazuya as her “servant” and shares his living space, remaining as inseparable as they were when she was a mere inanimate obi.

Roll Credits…

Even with a rather poor translation, I don’t think I missed much nuance here. Kazuya is defined by his utter lack of distinguishing features or personality traits—other than carrying around an obi and smelling it all the time, which would be kinda sweet, I guess, if it wasn’t also a bit weird.

Along with his one-note “class-rep” character, and his one-note big sister/guardian, there isn’t much depth to be found here, only reminders of shows past (and half-hours wasted on said shows).

We end up seeing many sides of Kiriha, and to her credit, between her superior, imperious attitude, propensity for making messes, and love of pudding, she also has Kazuya’s back (both out in the world and in the bath) and seems to mean well as a companion/protector.

But rather than working in her favor, these myriad sides only served to paint a muddled picture of who and what she is, beyond an once-inanimate object given (pretty) human form. Also, if you’re going to have blue hair and red eyes, you best come correct.

Throw in bland-as-paste Kazuya and a not particularly great-looking production (aside from one okay action scene) and there’s not quite enough here to encourage me to continue.

KonoSuba 2 – 02

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The expressions on the faces of Kazuma on Aqua kinda match up with my feelings about this episode, which was, in a word, listless. They still have the mansion (for now), but all their other earthly goods are gone. Megumin brings in a cat, so now the party has a mascot. The three worry about what might be happening to Darkness.

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Then Sena observes as the party strikes out into the snow to do what it does best: nothing right. Granted, this is a show all about the ineptitude of the party, so it’s not like I expect competence. It’s just that the slimy giant toads were already done last season, and despite casting Megumin’s rival Yunyun and Sena into the slimy fray, it all comes off as a bit stale.

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In other news, Kazuma and Megumin’s stubborn pride leads them to share a bath together, when neither wants to lose face by backing down from threats of…bathing together. To be fair, it’s a huge bath, so I don’t really see the problem as long as they’re covering up, which is the case here. Nevertheless, this is another retread from last season, with Megumin instead of Darkness.

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I’m not sure what would have improved this episode, but less (or no) Yunyun might’ve done the trick. The projections of her and Megumin’s most embarrassing moments were good for a chuckle, but otherwise she was half-baked and didn’t bring enough new out of Megumin to make her worth having around. This episode just felt like it lacked energy, and wasn’t up to the standard KonoSuba programmed me to expect through its much better efforts.

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KonoSuba – 09

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KonoSuba has made it a point to never play any fantasy/adventure convention straight, but that doesn’t mean it always results in ridiculous farce. Sometimes, when it turns a quality or trope of its genre on its head, it ends up more like real life than fantasy, which actually makes the world of KonoSuba more relatable than some of the shows it lampoons.

Take the boy-girl dynamic in KonoSuba. It’s a party of one guy and three girls, but the show has always successfully resisted the urge to pit them against each other with Kazuma as the prize only one of them can claim.

This isn’t a group of love rivals, it’s a group of comrades and friends, where gender isn’t an issue so much as the strange brew of personalities, be it Aqua’s haughtiness, Megumin’s megalomania, Darkness’ eccentricity, and…all of Kazuma’s myriad issues.

Often in fantasy adventure shows, party members of the opposite sex will start off not liking each other, and end up in sexily compromising positions that nonetheless end up bringing them together in some way. Naturally, KonoSuba aims to take that convention and put its own personal twist on it, and again succeeds.

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Of course, before we get to that inversion, we’re faced with another one: Kazuma follows his horny male friends into a den of succubi, where men sign contracts to be given dreams that provide “necessary release.” In exchange, the succubi get to take a small amount of the client’s vitality, though not enough to interfere with their day-to-day function.

In another show, this would be a clear racket and/or trap our horny protagonist gets tangled up in due to his inability to control his raging hormones; a predicament his female comrades would rescue him from, even as they hold their noses at the protag’s perversity.

But…this isn’t a racket, or a trap. As usual with this show, Kazuma is in no physical danger whatsoever. The succubi are simply running a business, performing mutually beneficial transactions with consenting customers. Nor is Kazuma patronizing a den of inequity where women are objectified or exploited – they’re succubi. Seducing men is what they do.

That being said, they still resemble women—shapely, sensual women—wearing next to nothing. As such, after purchasing a dream from them, Kazuma can’t help but start looking at his female comrades in a different light after all that, er, stimulation.

Kazuma starts to see Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness as the temptresses whose wiles he must withstand, since he was warned not to drink too much the night he’s to have his dream, and the girls are trying to ply him with choice crab, sake, and hot sake with crab guts. Just when his thoughts seem about to lead him to cutting loose, he calls it a night, and everyone, particularly Darkness, is disappointed.

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That brings us to Kazuma’s erotic dream involving Darkness in the bath, which it’s pretty obvious from the start…isn’t a dream. Still, Kazuma is convinced this is what he ordered from the succubus, and even when Darkness acts in ways different than what he specified, he kinda just goes along with it, simply happy to be having the “dream” (while also chalking it up to mild clerical errors).

Poor Darkness is of the disposition that no matter how raunchily Kazuma acts, she still feels compelled to do what she says. The sceneis obviously played for comedy, and it works, yet I was also intrigued by how Darkness is not made the butt of the joke. In fact, as the one person in this situation who knows this is not a fantasy, we’re more on her side. Furthermore, she doesn’t just turn into a puddle of masochistic goo at Kazuma barking orders.

Rather, she expresses a wide range of understandable emotions: mostly embarrassment and bewilderment. Sure, she may talk about having things done to her, but for it to actually happen, and for Kazuma to do it? It all but switches her Masochism Chip off and snaps her into emotional coherence. Basically, ‘this is not okay’. ‘Please, Kazuma, realize this isn’t a dream before you do irreversible damage!’

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Kazuma is bailed out not by sudden awareness, but by an intruder alert; Aqua and Megumin have captured a young, inexperienced succubus; the very one sent by her guild to give Kazuma his dream.

Obviously, the girls don’t know that, and as a goddess, Aqua is compelled to exorcise the succubus. But more than duty, it’s Aqua and Megumin’s loyalty to Kazuma that drive their actions. They know she’s here to drain their male friend, and they won’t let her.

The thing is, they’re operating under several understandable—but in particular case, inaccurate—assumptions: that succubi in this world are a lethal threat (they’re just running a business); that Kazuma’s a victim (he arranged for this); and that Kazuma is presently in this succubus’ thrall (when she never actually got to him).

The latter assumption is courtesy of Darkness, who just had an experience with a Kazuma that couldn’t possibly have been in his right mind. And yet, for all their good intentions, and the fact they give Kazuma the benefit of the doubt (and he knows they do), Kazuma believes his comrades are in the wrong, and won’t let them kill the succubus who was only doing her job and screwed up because she’s new.

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Again, the girls see this as the succubus using Kazuma himself as her shield, and “grudingly” beat the shit out of him to try to get to her, but Kazuma stands his ground. Whatever misunderstandings the girls harbor, he’s not going to let someone get caught up in it, even if it means sacrificing himself. It all makes for a wonderfully complex and funny confrontation, that’s far more entertaining than simply making it all a dream, or having the girls rescue Kazuma.

It’s also more satisfying, because Kazuma now has to deal with the consequences of totally freaking out Darkness. In this, Kazuma exercises self-preservation by lying about not remembering any of it because of the succubus’ power, and in doing so reinforcing their original misunderstanding while avoiding undue awkwardness with Darkness.

But then he gives away details of the bath, proving to Darkness he actually did remember what he said and did last night, so the awkwardness endures. For her part, Darkness said she didn’t necessarily dislike any of it, staying true to who she is, but with a clear intention to maintain certain boundaries in their relationship.

This was a surprisngly rich, deep episode that breathed new life in the “compromising position” trope (with accompanying titillating fanservice) by making it a meaningful exploration of Kazuma’s relationships, now that they’re all living together in a huge fancy mansion with private areas where misunderstandings are inevitable, succubi or no.

Just to add one more layer to this onion, the show doesn’t make it explicit that the succubi are running a legitimate (or harmless) business, and it’s definitely within the realm of personality that Kazuma and the other males who gave them their business actually were being unfairly influenced. Caveat emptor, and all that.

Kazuma said in the beginning (while Aqua was trying to commandeer the fireside couch): they’d satisfied the essential need for shelter and protection from the bitter cold of Winter. It’s only natural other…needs be addressed in turn. And they were, just not the way Kazuma or anyone else expected.

But never mind that shitDESTROYER ALERT!!!

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 08

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Hwelp, I’m an idiot. I was pretty darn sure the end of last week was the beginning of the end of Kayo–again–but I was mercifully mistaken: it was only a very, very close call. That’s not to lessen the seething tension of the episode’s first moments when Kayo isn’t sure what’s going to happen, but a lot of that weight I talked about (not all, but a lot) was lifted. Who the shit cares if I read the scene wrong, or the show “tricked” me by deviating from its usual pattern? Kayo’s still free and breathing!

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This means Satoru gets to see Kayo again, and is able to provide her with lunch thanks to his mom, who was up even earlier than he was preparing meals. One for him, another for “lunch”, but really for Kayo, as the note in the bento box confirms. At this point, Kayo’s mom has a pretty good idea what her son is up to, and is letting him keep his secret for now, having faith he’s doing the right thing and silently supporting him.

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At school, Kayo’s consecutive absences draw the attention and conjecture of the whole class, and Satoru asks the Yashiro of this timeline to act once more. Turns out he already has contacted social services, and accompanies them to Kayo’s home.

Kayo’s mom managed to sneak out just as they arrived, meaning it’s not yet time to rest easy, but at least the proper authorities are aware of the situation and intend to get Kayo away from her mother as soon as they can.

Satoru, Kenya and Hiromi keep Kayo company that night, giving her the opportunity to present Satoru with his belated birthday present: a pair of mittens she knit for him. Considering what became of the mittens back when Satoru failed to save her, I’m not surprised Satoru can’t help but tear up with joy and relief at the sight of them.

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The previous night’s intrusion didn’t result in Kayo’s demise, but it did spell the demise of the bus as a viable hideout, especially when they discover the contents of the backpack the man left behind, which Satoru instantly recognizes as the tools of the serial murderer, including that damnable spray bottle used to accelerate hypothermia.

I don’t think he noticed future first victim in Nakanishi Aya as he walked past her that morning, but with Hiromi as the second victim, it’s abundantly clear the bus and its environs are the nexus of the tragedy he hopes to avoid. They all have to get the hell out of there. But where will he stash Kayo? Why, at his house, of course.

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Such is Satoru’s knowledge of and faith in his loving mother, he knows bringing her there is the right move, and a move she’ll gladly accept. She’s seen Kayo and knows the miserable, loveless life she’s been forced to lead until meeting her son.

Nowhere is it clearer how raw her wounds from that life still are when Kayo instinctively recoils at the sight of Satoru’s mom’s approaching arm. Were it her own mom’s arm, it would have meant a strike; instead, her head is gently patted.

After feeding everyone and sending Kenya and Hiromi home, Sachiko calls Yashiro to inform him of what he expected – Kayo is safe and sound with Satoru. When she asks if Kayo really has to go away, I thought about the possibility of Sachiko adopting her, so she could have some constancy in her life.

Sachiko then goes out of her way to make sure Kayo feels as loved as possible on this night. The hot dinner with friends, a hot bath, having her hair washed, being given new, fresh pajamas, drying her hair properly, and sharing a warm futon with Satoru and his mom (lying strategically between the two) – everything is a new and wonderful experience for Kayo.

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That morning, Sachiko cooks her a hot multi-course breakfast, so far removed from the lazy, thoughtless breakfasts of cup ramen, bread, or spare change her “mom” provided, and Kayo can’t hold it in anymore.

She starts bawling at this attention and care and love she’s never gotten before. The 11-year-old Satoru might’ve taken this kind of treatment from his mom for granted, but the 29-year-old knows better, and understands Kayo’s tears as well as his own good fortune.

Later, Kayo knocks on her own apartment door, and her furious mother, who was in the process of trashing Kayo’s room, answers, winds up for a vicious slap, but stops in her tracks when she notices Kayo isn’t alone. Kayo and Sachiko flank her like bodyguards. Hopefully Kayo will never have to be alone with her pathetic coward of a mother ever again.

This was a generous episode not just because it didn’t kill Kayo in the beginning, but because it ends not on a note of uncertainty or imminent disaster, but on a note of potential triumph. Certainly, a lot of setbacks can occur in the four remaining episodes, but for now those possible troubles feel far away.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 09

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Even though it starts with an innocuous late night game of cards, it feels like a lot more happens in this episode than last week’s, thanks both to Ryouko’s vivid imagination and Tsuruya’s stargazing suggestion. It’s also a better episode...IF we forgive its deeply disconcerting final moments.

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At first Yuki loses, and as a penalty she has to get food and drinks for eveyrone. Naturally, Kyon comes along, for chivalrous purposes (it’s dark out and Yuki’s a klutz). Indeed. she trips and ends up in Kyon’s arms, and from Ryouko (and everyone else’s) POV they seem to even lean in to kiss.

But then, quite unexpectedly, it all turns out to have been a fantasy Ryouko made up in her head. In fact, the lovebirds never went out; she’s the one who ends up with the Old Maid.

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Thankfully, Yuki and Kyon do go out together when Ryouko and Haruhi conk out and Tsuruya suggests they go to a perfect spot for stargazing, which is quite a hike away. Kyon offers to hold Yuki’s hand, but she can’t quite do it, settling for his sleeve. They end up in a whimsical park full of huge dinosaur models.

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Turns out they’re being tailed by Ryouko and Haruhi here as well, and it’s here where Ryouko confesses to Haruhi she’s not worried about Yuki and Kyon alone together, she’s jealous, and lonely. But the ever-chipper Haruhi assures Ryouko her relationship with Yuki won’t change for fall by the wayside, whatever happens between Yuki and Kyon. They’re words Ryouko needed to hear and wants to believe.

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Everyone ends up reuniting at the stargazing spot, which is as awesome as advertised. When Yuki ends up off on her own, reaching out to starts that look close enough for her to touch, but can’t be, it’s Kyon who touches her hand, and takes it into his.

As their love theme—Debussy’s Clair de Lune—plays, Kyon leads Yuki back to the others, hand-in-hand. Yuki, who had been momentarily preoccupied by her insignificance in the vast universe above, is brought back down to earth, a place where she’s valued and loved not just by Kyon, but Ryouko as well.

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They get to sit next to each other on the train ride home, and just like that, the long, sprawling, eventful “training camp” is over, and Yuki is a little closer to reaching her goal. Cut to the rains that precede Summer, a time when Ryouko remarks Yuki will have to come up with excuses to see Kyon, and after they part ways, Yuki walks out into the street with the Walk sign, and it sure looks like she gets hit by a fucking car.

This…was upsetting. Not because I think it will be the death of Yuki—she appears alive and well in the preview—but because it’s so damned random. So far all of her nice romantic moments with Kyon have just kind of worked out, and now it’s as if the show wants Yuki to pay the piper or something for all of the good luck she’s had. It’s cruel.

Then again, the universe only needs one fraction of a second to everything away from you, and Yuki isn’t immune to that possibility. Also, disappearance is part of the title; I just sorely hope it isn’t her memory and love of Kyon that disappears. That would suck, frankly. I just want Yuki to be happy in her spin-off. Is that so much to ask?

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 08

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Nagato Yuki-chan took it easy this week. Like, really easy. Like, it just hung out in an onsen as the lit club simply relaxed. This was a very relaxed episode. Whether it was relaxing depends on your patience. I suppose it makes sense, though, as this rest marks the halfway point of the show’s rather unusual 16-episode run.

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One of the curiosities of this particular onsen is that its open-air bath is an omiai or matchmaking bath, with a small door that offers views between the men’s and women’s sides of the bath—that only the women can open (which is the way it should be!) This is different from the usual “guys try to sneak a look at the girls” angle.

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That being said, if you were itching to see Haruhi, Yuki, Asahina, Tsuruya and Mikuru in various states of tastefully covered-up nudity, you were in luck this week. From the tight closeups of the girls disrobing to Haruhi’s general (and very true-to-character) lack of modesty, the onsen fanservice was present and accounted for.

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Post-bath, pre-dinner activites? It had those too, from a table tennis tournament totally rigged by Haruhi, to a karaoke tournament she flakes out of when she suddenly gets bored, which happens the moment Kyon is about to sing. What’s mildly funny is that he’s so into it he doesn’t notice his friends have left him and he’s singing to some random woman cleaning the bath.

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Like previous episodes, this one was also not afraid to take long pauses of calm silence. Kyon successfully repels Haruhi and Koizumi and enjoys a good twenty seconds before deciding to go back to the baths, at the exact same time Yuki decides to do the same thing. Then Yuki opens the matchmaking window on a whim to find Kyon right there on the other side, perfectly framed in the heart-shaped hole in the frosted glass.

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She apologizes, he tells her she doesn’t have to, and invites her to open it again—it’s for conversation, not peeping, after all—but the sound of the others spooks her. Nevertheless, the two have a good relaxed laugh on their respective sides, and the requisite Yuki x Kyon Moment is achieved, though Yuki once again fails to confess her feelings.

If nothing else, this episode made me want to take a long, hot, possibly herb-infused bath, followed by a brief spell in the sauna, a cold fruit milk, and a multi-course Japanese meal. Sounds heavenly.

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