Fruits Basket – 35 (S2 10) – Squaring Off Against a God

Tooru can tell that both Yuki and Kyou have changed on this beach trip, and believes that they must have changed for the better. But what about her? They’re going home the day after tomorrow, and Tooru feels like she hasn’t been done enough self-improvement of her own. Yuki is content to finish the trip with the fun memory of fireworks on the beach.

Tooru happens to listen in as Kyou confides in Momiji. He now realizes why he and the other Zodiac members obey Akito without complaint or argument: for Tooru’s sake. By letting Akito have his way, they’re sparing her more of his ire. Momiji laments that they’ve been doing it “all wrong” due to their selfish desire to have it both ways. Tooru just wants to do more for them.

As for Akito’s ire, Tooru already has it, and it’s built up every day of his trip until he can even sense that Shigure has fallen under the “ugly girl’s” spell. When Kureno interrupts Akito’s ranting with a report from the main house, the two begin to depart, but Akito gives Kureno the slip after changing.

The next we see him, Akito is in the yard, and Momiji grudingly receives him. When Akito announces he’s there for Tooru, Momiji blocks his path, and pays for it with a vicious punch to the face that draws blood. That’s when Tooru who couldn’t sleep anyway and was out on a walk, puts her body between Akito and the thoroughly cowed Momiji. I can’t decide if it’s the bravest or the stupidest thing she’s ever done, but hey…why not both?

Akito holds back on neither the invasion of personal space, the gaslighting, or the plain ol’ acidic vitriol. He accuses Tooru of being “not a very nice person”—which would be laughable if he wasn’t so menacing—and proceeds to dictate how things are going to go: after high school graduaction, Kyou is going into confinement for the rest of his life, and the other Zodiac members will return to the estate with him for the rest of theirs.

Does Tooru give in to the finality and despair of these words, despite learning that Akito is not the rooster but the literal GOD of the Zodiac, and after receiving nasty gashes to the face? My friends, she does not. While it must no doubt be disconcerting to be told a future by someone with the power to make it a reality, Tooru is just as certain in her own commitment to prevent that future, because she doesn’t think it’s what the Zodiac members want.

As with Kyou and Yuki before him, meeting with Akito changed Tooru. She’s no longer uncertain about what to do, and it was Akito’s quintessential rottenness that finally solidified that plan. Tooru is going to protect them. She’ll protect their freedom to choose where to seek their happiness. Their freedom to move forward, not stay stagnant in some dusty estate at the whims of a loathsome wretch.

As Yuki tells Hatsu (who stopped both him and Kyou from interfering in the confrontation), it’s not easy to protect someone, let alone a whole group people with myriad problems in addition to the common one of Akito. But Tooru doesn’t care if it’s hard, or if it’s impossible and will result in Akito tearing her limb from limb.

She’s going to break that goddamn curse, and won’t hear a single syllable from anyone urging her to reconsider. Her arsenal will include light, love, kindness and hope…but will it be enough? And can she hope to fight effectively without reckoning with her own murky past and its constituent traumas? I don’t know, but I’m not about to bet against her!

Fruits Basket – 34 (S2 09) – A Too-Perfect Monster

Rin’s story is placed on hold as this episode is entirely given over to the fated rematch between Kyou and Akito. On the way in, Kyou castigates Yuki and the others for letting Tooru be all alone at the beach house, two which Yuki throws a “what about you?” back in his face. As much as they might hate Akito, obeying him is “how it’s supposed to be.” And yet how unusual is it for Akito to give the Cat another audience? Akito’s looking to head off any further intrusions from Tooru by appealing directly to Kyou.

For what it’s worth, Tooru is ecstatic that Kyou was finally invited in. Little does she know all Akito wants is to stamp out the beautiful thing she and Kyou have, and turn him against her. The visit goes about as well as you’d expect, considering how little experience Kyou has dealing with Akito. He tries his best to keep his temper in check, but Akito knows exactly how to push his buttons and make him erupt into a scattered emotional mess.

This is in sharp contrast to Yuki’s last couple meetings with Akito, in which he proved to himself that Akito’s taunts and mind games are of little utility. When Kyou’s eyes widen and he trembles as Akito’s proverbial tentacles surround and restrain him, it’s in large part because Akito is tapping into Kyou’s long-held guilt that his mother committed suicide because of him, and thus is undeserving of love, happiness, or hope.

But what really pushes Kyou into the deep end from which he may never return is when Akito starts insulting Tooru as a fellow “monster”, an angel far too perfect to be normal or real. Kyou sets the record straight, telling Akito just how scared Tooru was when she saw his true form, yet still held onto his hand lest she lose him forever. Akito derides Tooru as a monster, while Kyou’s Shisho made him think of her as a little flower in the dirt.

No matter how many times one might trample that flower—that hope—it always blooms anew after periods of nurturing sun and rain. As we see in a flashback involving Lil’ Kyou meeting Kyouko, Tooru became that little flower for him.

In their previous meeting Akito and Kyou made a bet: if he defeated Yuki by graduation, Akito would stop calling him a monster and welcome him into the Zodiac. But if he failed, Akito would confine Kyou just as he did previous Cats. It’s a terrible bet; one Akito can far too easily rig in her favor by poisoning Kyou’s all-too-fragile mind. Just bring up the guilt about his mother, and he starts wondering why he was even kept alive this long.

And yet, when he reunites with Tooru on the beach, the little flower he loves so much he can’t let her get any more involved with him, he resolves to stay with her until “the end”, when he’ll go quietly into confinement and save her from being trampled.

Of course, there’s no way in hell Tooru would want him to do something like that for her sake or anyone else’s. And I predict the more we learn about what she’s keeping under the still-closed lids in her heart, the more we’ll find she harbors very similar guilt about the fate of her parents as Kyou does, which will only draw her closer to him as he plans for a gradual separation.

In any case, quietly making such choices without consulting her is just plain bad form and walking backwards by Kyou. Hopefully Tooru will learn about what he has planned for himself before it’s too late to change anything, and find a way to help reconcile the guilt over the past that continues to press upon both of them.

Fruits Basket – 33 (S2 08) – Quiet Voices

In summoning the Zodiac members to the annex, Akito intends to gradually isolate Tooru, the “Ugly Girl” with whom Akito locked is in a one-sided competition. Tooru isn’t trying to take anyone from him, just get along and help out with their problems if she can.

Of course, simply by existing and being kind-hearted and caring, Tooru is an affront to Akito’s authority as “god” of the Zodiac. The members and their souls are Akito’s property. To put it crudely, Tooru is fuckin’ with Akito’s shit, and he will only tolerate it so far.

All we know is, none of the Zodiac members dare oppose Akito…except for Yuki, who thanks to Tooru has developed a more rigid spine and thicker skin. Tooru is worried about what Yuki said to her on the beach, especially the part spoken in such a “quiet voice” she couldn’t hear it even when she strained to do so.

The next day Yuki apologizes for making her worry, but won’t apologize for the kiss. In exchange, he’s fine with her forgetting everything he said, but she won’t. What was said (what she heard anyway) was important, after all.

Kyou is a little different in that he’s no so much in open rebellion against Akito as simply not worth his time or trouble, being the Cat and all. It’s because of this Akito doesn’t summon him, allowing him to continue hanging out with Tooru. What Akito doesn’t realize (at least until witnessing the two having fun on the beach) is that as long as Tooru has Kyou, she won’t be lonely and miserable, which is what Akito wants.

Previously, Akito assumed Kyou was a monster who even Tooru couldn’t have fun with, but he is ignorant to just how much growth Kyou has gone through. Rather than be tight-lipped about his rosary, for instance, Kyou tells Tooru how it’s made of bone and blood of “some great monk”, making it a constant reminder that someone was sacrificed so that his true form could be controlled. Just telling Tooru this, and letting her comfort him, is immense growth.

Meanwhile, someone who is clearly not only an emotional prisoner of Akito but of her own emotional complexes is Isuzu AKA Rin, whom Tooru finally meets by chance while chasing down a sheet.

She meets Rin in her Horse form, as Rin is exhausted from walking to the beach. In the cold open we see she’s crashing at Kagura’s house, but like virtually everyone else she has no intention of letting anyone know about her desires or problems.

Despite being exhausted, Rin transforms back into human form through sheer willpower after nearly kicking Tooru’s head in as a horse. She takes Tooru’s change of clothes, but otherwise doesn’t give her the time of day, and not-so-kindly asks Yuki to butt the hell out of her business. Seeing her as she is now reminds me of much earlier versions of Yuki and Kyou, but without the slightest interest in knowing Tooru.

When Rin calls Yuki Akito’s toy and Yuki doesn’t so much as flinch, it angers her even more, and she storms off in a rage, later stomping the sand castle Tooru and Kyou built. Yuki assures Tooru he’ll take care of Rin, but for now has to return to the annex from which he snuck out. He’s continuing to play Akito’s game, even as his hold on him is diminishing by the day.

But now that Akito has seen how well Kyou and Tooru have gotten on, which means a new avenue for antagonism. Thus he finally orders Hatori and Shigure to summon Kyou, in an effort to complete her isolation. Shigure is excited at this development as it no doubt fits within whatever twisted scheme he has, while Hatori is not amused.

As for Kyou, he has no idea what’s coming down the pike. Yuki warned him not to risk hurting Tooru by being too impertinent if and when Akito summoned him. Hopefully he got the message even though he hates the messenger…

Fruits Basket – 32 (S2 07) – So Hard Because It’s So Simple

This week’s cold open features Akito, who has followed Shigure’s advice and arrived at the seaside, confronting Yuki and whispering something in his ear. While we can’t hear what hesays, Akito is likely using the exact same ammunition he’s used in the past—trying to cover Yuki in a hopeless pitch black, warning him any glimmers of happiness or warmth are mere delusions.

But there’s something different about Yuki here from previous confrontations with Akito, and the fact Yuki’s voiceover is all we here is key to that. First of all, he’s not having a goddamn panic attack, so that’s good! While Akito approaches and launches his attack, Yuki is testing a new “armor” he has developed as a result of “opening the lid”—the armor of his memory of saving Tooru.

When Momiji proposes a watermelon splitting contest, Tooru starts to bring up her mother, but stops herself, awkwardly saying “gumshoe” instead of “mom”. She doesn’t want to trouble people with stories of her mom when she knows nothing about their own.

Hiro, who learned that morning that his mom is pregnant, can now see the effect of his harsh words to her, while Kyou can again sense something off in Tooru, and suspects it’s Hiro’s fault.

While Momiji, Hiro and Kisa are napping, Kyou asks Tooru about it, and she in turn asks Kyou about his parents. As expected, there’s not much to say: his mom was killed in an “accident” (holding back that it was suicide) when he was very small and he and his biological dad are estranged.

Tooru then shares the details of her watermelon splitting contest with her mom. Neither of them had any aim to speak of, as her mom smashed both a flowerpot and Tooru’s dad’s shrine, but they still had a lot of fun, and the warmth and love of that memory brings a smile to Kyou’s face.

But amidst all these happy feels, you can’t help but wonder: what is missing from Tooru’s almost impossibly ideal childhood with her mom prior to her death? Why doesn’t she remember (or claims not to remember) anything about her dad, from whom she inherited not only her kindness but her very manner of speaking?

Akito, Kureno, and Hattori arrive, and arrangements are made for the Zodiac members to formally greet her at the annex. Before that, Akito spends some time by the ocean, with Kureno not far away. Yuki encounters them while on a walk, and we’ve now reached the events of the cold open.

Predictably, Akito fires shoots some lies Yuki’s way—telling him he’s “all alone as usual” and “such a lonely boy.” Akito’s idea of Yuki as an individual might as well be frozen in amber. That’s who Yuki was, and those barbs don’t cut nearly as deep as they once did, when Akito’s influence on him was stronger.

Shigure rounds up Momiji, Hatsu, Kisa and Hiro, and all of them are gloomy because none of them are in a particular hurry to meet with Akito, especially if it means leaving Tooru behind (not to mention Kyou, who never sees Akito). Momiji in particular seems at peace with the fact he’s “disliked” by Akito, but he can deal with that if he can continue having fun with Tooru.

Back at the beach house, Tooru is determined not to be glum, and stirs into action making pancakes with Kyou, who’s never had them before. Kyou can sense Akito’s reason for coming as putting a damper on their good times.

When Shigure arrives with the Zodiac members, he’s received by Akito, Kureno, and Hattori. Akito sends Kureno away without meeting with anyone (deeming it “unnecessary”) and proceeds to launch into a villainous rant, boasting about how she discouraged Yuki and laughing about his attempts to separate from her.

Shigure takes all this in stride, and is his usual polite self as Akito goes to receive the others. While Hattori isn’t pleased with Shigure’s methods (i.e. “scheming” and “shaking things up”) he lauds him for at least trying to do something to exact change.

I may not know exactly what Shigure is up to, but I do know that Akito is more a means and not an end to his plans. That Akito doesn’t seem aware he’s being manipulated seems to be working in Shigure’s favor.

While Yuki weathered his latest confrontation with Akito well, it still left him feeling as gloomy as everyone else who has dealings with the pale little shit this week. So it’s fortuitous that he and Tooru meet on the beach at dusk, just when he’s feeling his most alone.

Just then, there’s a beautiful meteor shower in the sky above them. They’re only visible to Yuki because he was able to survive dark clouds and pelting rain of Akito’s bitter mind games, which in turn was possible due to both his memory of and friendship with Tooru, twin totems in his efforts to cast away the darkness.

Akito tried so hard to make Yuki think he was useless, but when Yuki encountered Tooru and helped her out, it was the first time he felt needed. In that regard, she saved him just as much as he saved her, because it turned his world upside-down and let him dream of a better one, of which he’s now privileged to be a part.

Akito’s dark clouds never stood a chance against the dazzling showers of kindness, warmth and joy that Tooru so generously shares with him every day. They’re why he won’t lose to Akito. When Tooru asks why he looks sad, Yuki tenderly takes her shoulders, kisses her forehead, and tells her she’s “so dear” to him. So it’s official: Tooru is the Dear of the Zodiac!

Puns aside, Yuki compares Tooru to the sky: i.e. something he’ll never reach. It’s clear Kyou is making more progress with Tooru, and Yuki knows if he becomes bitter or possessive about it, he’s no better than Akito. Just as he’s liberated himself from Akito’s now-hollow lies an manipulations, he must move past the memory that helped him do so, and shrug off the comfy blanket that is Tooru in order to keep moving forward.

Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl (Bunny Girl-Senpai Movie) – Heart of the Matter

From June 2019 (a much simpler time) comes the continuation of the Bunny Girl-Senpai anime, the broadcast of which ended without answering key questions about the nature of Sakuta’s first crush, Makinohara Shouko (Minase Inori). Don’t bother watching this movie without having seen the anime, my reviews for which you can read here.

Our titular Rascal Sakuta is actually doing fine with Mai as his busy actress/model girlfriend Mai. But one day a college-aged version of Shouko arrives at Sakuta’s apartment, ready to move in with the man she loves. Anxiety about the future from a much younger Shouko from the fourth grade led to her Adolescence Syndrome that created her future self in the present.

The younger Shouko reveals to Sakuta and Mai that she’s been in and out of the hospital all her life with a bum ticker; she wasn’t even expected to survive past middle school, hence her anxiety. The older Shouko was created to live out all of the plans her younger self couldn’t write down in that elementary school “future plans” exercise.

Those plans include not only graduating middle and high school and being admitted to college, but meeting the boy of her dreams, confess to him, and eventually marry him. For all those things to happen, Shouko needed a heart transplant, and while she’s doing a “trial run” wedding at a venue in a gown, Sakuta notices a scar on her chest and realizes it was he who gave her that new heart.

According to Rio, Shouko’s will was likely split between one who was resigned to dying young and one who sought to continue her life. Now the future Shouko tells Sakuta about a car accident that will claim his life and allow his heart to be donated to her. She gives him the choice between spending Christmas Eve with her or with Mai.

The wounds on Sakuta’s chest are the result of the contradiction of his heart being both in his chest and in that of the older Shouko. Now that Sakuta knows one version of his future and the doom that befalls him, it means he can act to change it. Preventing his accident spells doom for Shouko, but letting the accident happen means leaving Mai all alone.

Sakuta is desperate to try to have his cake and eat it to, but the bottom line is he simply can’t. And while it’s a tough choice, it’s not an impossible one. He visits the younger Shouko in the hospital to tell her that the both of them have done all they can.

For her part, Mai wants Sakuta to choose a future with her, and follow the older Shouko’s instructions to celebrate Christmas Eve at home where it’s safe. She even tries to lead him on a train journey to take them as far away as possible from a situation where she’d lose him, urging him to share the pain of choosing to live on with his girlfriend.

After paying young Shouko one last visit (she’s in the ICU), Sakuta has a change of heart, especially when he realizes Shouko knew he’d pick Mai. He rushes to meet with Shouko instead, and is almost run over by a van, but he’s saved by Mai, who dies in his place. This is a lot of story to keep track of, but it all unfolds relatively organically, and it’s all appropriately heartrending to behold.

Sakuta lives out a few more days after this Bad Ending partly in a numb daze, partly wracked in grief. His chest wounds are gone, which means Shouko never got his heart, and seemingly the entire region mourns the loss of the famous actress who was taken from them far too soon.

Sakuta wanders off, asking someone, anyone to save Mai, to not let things end this way. Then he’s approached…by Shouko. He may not have given her his heart, but she received Mai’s in secret and survived. Now she’s come to help him visualize the time they’re in as the future so he can travel back to the present and save Mai himself.

Sakuta falls asleep in a bed in the school infirmary and wakes up on Christmas Eve. He manages to find someone who can see and hear him (Koga Tomoe, who had a dream about him needing her in just such an occasion) and then reunites with Mai, the loss of whom is still so raw and fresh that he loses it upon seeing her.

Sakuta tells his past self that there’s nothing he can do for Shouko and that any attempt will cost Mai’s life, but as Sakuta is a stubborn ass, he doesn’t initially hear him. Meanwhile Mai tells him she was resolved to rescue him all along, and knows the other Sakuta would never save himself if it robbed Shouko of her future.

When the fateful moment at the icy intersection occurs this time, Sakuta is rescued by his future self (wearing a bunny mascot suit so his self won’t recognize him and cause a paradox). The future Sakuta then vanishes, merged with the present Sakuta…and Shouko vanishes as well. He then returns to a relieved Mai’s side.

Sacrificing Shouko still doesn’t sit right with Sakuta, however, so he and Mai agree to try to do what they can to help her, starting by visiting her in the ICU where she’s near death. But young Shouko tells Sakuta not to worry about her anymore; she’s seen everything that’s happened in her dreams, and intends to create a future where he and Mai won’t have the painful memories of her.

All the way back in the fourth grade, Shouko manages to fill out her future plans, resulting in a future where Sakuta and Mai indeed do not remember her, and seem to be far more at peace for it. They visit a shrine for the new year, and Sakuta prayed for less weird things to happen to him…a bit ironic considering that’s how he met Mai!

All the same, while discussing a movie in which Mai stars in a role identical to Shouko’s near the beach where Sakuta once dreamed of his first crush, he and Mai spot a girl running along the sand with her parents. It’s a young Shouko, alive and in good health. Suddenly memories of Shouko flood back into Sakuta’s head and he calls out her name…and she calls out his.

Dreaming Girl’s ninety minutes equate to five new episodes and a final arc that ties all of the anime’s storylines togethers. It’s a satisfying conclusion to as well as a dramatic elevation of the TV show; an emotional roller coaster that knows just which ways to twist and turn for maximum heart-wrenching. And it’s absolutely essential viewing for any Bunny Girl fan.

Kakushigoto – 02 – Boxes Within Boxes

In addition to being about a single father and daughter, Kakushigoto offers a glimpse into the lives of manga artists. Kakushi’s team is up against a deadline, so they escape reality by getting absorbed in doing chores or cooking. They end up completing the manuscript in time, and while it might sound counter-intuitive, they were only able to do it because of the gyoza-making session session.

Since a manuscript is done, Kakushi and crew have some free time, so they head to a beach (and a villa owned by a manga artist who, like many, dreamed of working by the sea, only to soon regret it). Unfortunately for Kakushi’s assistants, the villa is in dire need of a deep clean.

Meanwhile, Kakushi spies on Hime, who is on a school field trip. He’s caught several times by Ichiko, who thinks he’s talking about her (and not Hime) when he says “the cuteness is undeniable.”

Kakushi also goes to great lengths to ensure Hime doesn’t endure teasing, first by buying a beetle for her to easily catch (though it’s the wrong species), then flying in an Indian master chef to add seasoning to her curry (though it’s too spicy for the kids).

He returns to find his assistants are too exhausted from cleaning to go out, so they aim to have double the fun tomorrow. Alas, a typhoon hits the area hard, and they’re stuck inside with the power out and nothing to do…but draw manga. One of them, Rasuna, draws in her swimsuit, because she brought a swimsuit so she has to wear it somewhere, dammit!

While taking Hime to a festival, Kakushi keeps spotting bootlegged merchandise bearing the face of a character from his manga. Mortified Hime will put two and two together, he buys up all of the masks, cotton candy, and attempts to shoot all of the targets, using his assistants to carry the huge loads of merch away.

In the process of doing all of this, poor Hime has to sit on a bench and wait instead of spending time with her dad. It’s a case of Kakushi worrying and thinking way too much. Hime isn’t actively trying to find out the truth of his livelihood.

In another segment that bends reality, a pair of police investigators come to Kakushi’s makeshift studio, on suspicion they’re running an antisocial cult. With every piece of “evidence” the detectives find, their crazy suspicions grow more ridiculous, until they fear Kakushi and his comrades are planning to overthrow the government.

Three of his four assistants surrender, hoping they’ll receive leniency, and Kakushi follows suit when he considers the possibility of not being there for Hime. Ultimately it’s Rasuna who proves to the cops that Kakushi is indeed a manga artist and harmless—as long as you consider a naked artist’s portrait in the back of his book!

Finally, while printing out photos of their festival trip, Kakushi wonders where Hime’s yukata came from. She tells him it’s hand-sewn, and she found it in the closet. Kakushi opens said closed, for the first time, and discovers boxes for every year of Hime’s life up to 16, no doubt packed with age-appropriate, hand-made clothes. Kakushi has been so busy with his manga and keeping his job a secret, he never knew his wife too great strides to ensure Hime would be well-dressed after she was gone.

Fast-forward to the present day when Hime is 18, lamenting how she never tried to find out what her dad really did and is only learning now. She finds new boxes for ages 17-20 in the storage house. It sure seems like Kakushi has died at this point, and that lends an extra layer of melancholy to all the segments in the past—especially when you consider how much time (and money) Kakushi spends keeping his job secret.

If he’s dead when she’s 18, that means the 10-year-old Hime only has seven years left with her dad. It’s kind of heartbreaking!

Elfen Lied – 02 – One Or the Other

Things would have been so much easier—and far less bloodily—if Kouta hadn’t gotten angry and scared Nyu off. Instead, Bando and his tactical team arrive, and Bando is not particularly interested in anything other than killing the target. After the cops visit his house, Kouta somehow manages to get to Nyu first and tries to run away with her, but Bando gun-whips him and captures the target.

Yuka also briefly talks to the cops before tracking down Kouta, who is still dazed on the beach. Bando drags Nyu to another location, but when she won’t fight back he grows bored and orders his subordinate to kill her instead, since those are their orders. Instead, Nyu turns back into Lucy and does her thing, relieving the grunt of his chest, arm, head—you name it, she slices it off.

Suddenly intrigued, Bando tries to fight Lucy, but it’s really no contest; not when she’s tossing boats around and none of his bullets hit her. The fun ends when she closes the distance between them to the range of her telekinesis, and it’s seemingly game over, as she slices off his arm and gouges out his eyes. But Bando is spared when she suddenly turns back into Nyu.

Nyu runs off, and a young woman with a puppy finds the maimed Bando and runs for help. But when she returns, he’s gone. After a very brief stay in the hospital, Kouta takes a taxi and bids Yuka goodnight, only to find a soaked Nyu at his front door with a new shell to replace the one she broke.

Yuka returns just as Kouta is getting Nyu out of her wet clothes to keep her from catching cold, while the head researcher and his #2 prepare to deploy another human experiment like Lucy to go after her—a naked and bloody subject called “#7.”

Once again Elfen Lied delivers extensive blood and boobs, but if you’ve watched, say, True Blood (which didn’t premiere until four years after this show) you’re likely as desensitized as I am. What struck me more was just how much of a boorish asshole Bando was (and will likely continue to be, as he’s not dead yet), as well as the apparent heartlessness of the lab coats. Kouta may have messed up last week, but maybe now he understands how much Nyu needs him in her current state.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 04 – No Gym? No Ocean? No Problem!

Due to a large volume of summer casual trainers at the gym, Hibiki and Akemi aren’t able to access the “free weights” like the bench press and dumbbells, so on Machio’s advice they train instead on machines like the chest press machine, which are a good way to diversify the way one exercises a muscle group.

Ayaka also joins the gym to give boxing classes, and is as immediately smitten with (a fully clothed) Machio as Hibiki and Satomi were…before he struck his signature “Side Chest!”, that is.

The first day Hibiki, Akemi and Ayaka meet up to go to the gym as a trio, Silverman is unexpectedly closed for the day. While they lacked their primary training equipment at the gym, not having access to a gym at all means getting more resourceful.

Akemi invites the other two to her palacial house, and shows them a beefcake-packed video by Ozu Toshio, apparently Machio’s sensei. They learn reverse sit-ups and dips using chairs, but unfortunately when Hibiki ups the difficulty by attempting dips with a backpack full of books, she breaks two antique chairs she later learns could sell at auction for hundreds of millions of yen. Oops!

Finally, the three girls (plus Satomi, in another case of pure coincidence) hit the beach to show off their tight new bods, only to learn the summer swimming season is closed due to hammerhead sharks in the water.

Not one to be discouraged by a setback, Akemi shows the others how to do burpees, which exercise the entire body (which she proceeds to expose in the instructional video), followed by sprints along the beach. While everyone gets properly worn out by day’s end, everyone rightly feels a great sense of accomplishment. Who needs gyms, or even the sea, when you have a nice stretch of sand?

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 23 – Island Grind

Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo meet their cabin-mates L’Arc Berg and Therese Alexanderite (Hayami Saori), neither of whom will believe he’s the Shield Hero. Not because he doesn’t look the part, but because they deem themselves good enough judges of character to conclude he’s not “that scumbag,” not realizing that his scumbag reputation is largely fiction.

In a wonderful bit of karmic justice, the other three heroes who took all the private cabins end up horribly seasick for the duration of the voyage to Cal Mira, and Filo doesn’t make it any better by violently catching strong-smelling shark-fish for dinner.

Once they arrive at the island and get out into the field, they find even small fry net huge amounts EXP…until all four heroes end up in the same spot. Rather than bicker with the others, Naofumi & Co. take a boat to another island, where the monsters are tougher the EXP greater, and the enemy drops both epic and timely, as the weapons Raphtalia and Filo started needed replacing from overuse.

After a day of gaining two dozen-plus levels, the party makes camp, but L’Arc and Therese arrive, responding to their ferryman who was worried they were killed. These are the kind of guys who won’t let acquaintances die out in the field if they can help it…but I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of dread about them. After all, “Myne” seemed like a nice partner at first too.

The five head back to an inn for food and drink, and we see that Cal Mira is as much about pleasure and fun as it is grinding for levels and loot. Kevin Penkin rolls out another beautiful orchestral theme over the carousing scene, which includes Raph getting drunk on wine and beating the racist knight at arm wrestling, as well as Naofumi not getting drunk at all on the same intoxicating fruit that knocks Motoyasu to the floor.

The next morning, Raph seems to have suffered no hangover, and L’Arc and Therese join Naofumi’s party for the day’s grind. Naofumi also presents Therese with the accessory she commissioned, and its power and craftsmanship quite literally move her to tears as she hands Naofumi all the gold she has.

Naofumi, Raph and Filo learn that L’Arc and Therese are very good to have on your side in a fight, as the former is another trusty swordsman while the latter has powerful offensive magic of a style none of them ever heard of. Naofumi even cracks a smile or two; while L’Arcs type usually rubs him the wrong way (See: Motoyasu) they get along just fine.

After a somewhat awkward farewell where L’Arc and Therese decline Naofumi’s invitation to join them tomorrow, they part ways. I’d like to see the duo again, even if they turn out to be plotting against him. Naofumi decides to take the next day off, which means both Filo and Raphtalia get to show off the very stylish swimsuits they bought at the market. Sadly for Raph, Naofumi still doesn’t see her as a potential love interest, and never will.

The lightweight atmosphere of sun and fun is interrupted by Filo’s discovery of underwater ruins (incidentally one of my favorite levels in FFX), which contain a Dragon Hourglass. That’s bad news because it means Cal Mira is a target for the next Wave of Catastrophe, which is just 48 hours and change away. With that, the stage is set for the final battle of Shield Hero‘s first season, as well as the possibility it will end with a bang rather than a whimper.

Isekai Quartet – 09 – Chibis in Bikinis

The beach trip is finally here, which means fans of the four series see the characters in modern swimsuits for the first time, albeit in chibi form. Still, the animation definitely seems to make Darkness more proportional as she does a thousand push-ups under Cocytus’ orders just so she can be gawked at by Tanya’s men. This, in turn, draws the ire of Ram and Visha, condemning the lads as scumbags for indulging the masochist with their stares.

The daytime events are pretty dull, but things heat up at night when the class splits up into groups for the big test of courage. Tanya is paired with Subaru, Ainz, and Aqua, and loses her cool when Aqua explains that she’s a goddess. Tanya initially mistakes her for Being X and prepares to launch when Ainz estimates to be Level 8 magical power on Yggdrasil.

Subaru stands between Tanya and Aqua, and along with Ainz all agree that Aqua is too much of a lightweight loser to be the Being X she’s talking about.  A couple of Tanya’s own men fall ill due to what she deems “lack of mental discipline”, but Ainz is duly impressed that Subaru took that wave of power in the face at point-blank range like it was nothing. Ainz asks himself what kind of mental stress Subaru is used to living under…If he only knew!

Isekai Quartet – 08 – Shopping in a New World

Ainz proposes a group activity during the class field trip to the beach, and Aqua immediately raises her hand in opposition…until she learns the idea was actually Emilia’s, in the interest of the various class members getting along better.

Aqua has definitely been the most antagonistic towards another character—in this case, the undead Ainz—but when Subaru talks about the purpose of a test of courage, joins Ram in castigating him. Still, everyone agrees that the night  activity will indeed be a test of courage; Emilia just needs Subaru to tell her what it is!

The students also need to head to a department store to buy swimsuits. You’d think that would mean they’d actually try them on, which would in some cases show many of the characters wearing different outfits—a rare occurrence to be sure. That doesn’t happen this week, as don’t yet make it to the beach.

Instead, Albedo and Shalltear try to pick out the best skimpy Speedo for Ainz-sama, and when Aqua crosses paths with them again, Kazuma plays peacemaker. He wigs out when he learns Albedo is a succubus (based on his experience in his isekai) but Shalltear drags her fellow floor guardian by telling him she’s still a pure maiden and laughing about it.

For that, Aqua actually takes Albedo’s side; saving yourself for the one you love isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Instead, she inadvertently drags Shalltear by declaring the only thing to be ashamed of is padding your chest, as her fellow goddess Eris—and Shalltear—do. A such, it is Albedo who gets the last laugh.

Domestic na Kanojo – 07 – Advance and Retreat

We begin with Natsuo and Hina going on a “date” to Kamakura. The teahouse lady mistakes them for a couple. They see the sights and have a lot of fun; their chemistry is unassailable. Then they head for the beach, and Natsuo brings up Hina’s “child” comment from earlier.

Hina admits she was just trying to say the thing that would hurt Natsuo most, since she was already in a relationship with Shuu and she and Natsuo were now siblings. Then she tells him how she met Shuu: like Natsuo with Hina, he was her teacher and first love.

When her friends shunned her for being too cute and flirty, he was her only friend. When they met up by chance years later, he was wearing a ring, but she couldn’t turn him or her happiness down when he said they should get together.

When Natsuo hands her his newly-completed novel, whose heroine is modeled after her, he confesses he’s been in love with her for a long time. Hina’s reaction follows the general pattern of their incident in her bedroom: she draws closer, taking his hand, and proposing they go out together, keeping it a secret from their family and everyone else.

But then, as when she basically teased Natsuo’s lack of experience, Hina brings the hammer down, taking Natsuo a bit too far into the surf to make a point: for them to be together when they’re family will most certainly backfire stupendously. She likens it to double suicide, be it socially or literally.

Natsuo knows it’s not possible, but merely asks they stay in the surf a bit longer so he can hug her and cry it out. That night after they get back home, Hina reads the whole book in one night, and it brings her to tears. Through the pages she can probably feel Natsuo’s longing, because it’s exactly how she felt with Shuu. She can hardly blame him for something when she knows full well we aren’t in control of who we fall for.

Things seem to return to a friendly sibling relationship between Natsuo and Hina, but Rui’s crush on Natsuo continues, culminating in her visiting Natsuo’s room one night. She notes that on the day they met (and did it), they never actually kissed. She wants to try doing so now.

Despite things being cordial with Hina, Natsuo is still a wreck, and it’s at least partially his desire to prove Hina wrong about something like them being utterly impossible that leads him to acquiesce to Rui’s request. To hear Rui so earnestly describe how calm and at rest she felt while kissing him, well…it certainly complicates matters for young Natsuo.

At this point Miu seems to be the best bet for him in terms of romantic interests who aren’t related to him, while Momo would obviously welcome his company anytime. Still, with Rui stating her intentions to keep continue their kissing sessions on the downlow, it’s clear that it’s not going to be as easy as going out with Miu or Momo.

After spending the evening with Natsuo and Rui tutoring them for their upcoming exams, Rui brings up Ashihara and his apparent rapport with her, intriguing Hina. Later that night, while perhaps going to visit Rui’s room, Natsuo sees that Hina’s door is open.

Before he can knock, he hears a…a noise, and when he peeks through the crack in the door, he sees Hina pleasuring herself, letting out Shuu’s name when she finishes. I’m not sure why she didn’t completely close the door, but never mind; the deeply private moment Natuso witnessed can’t be unseen or unheard.

As disturbing as it was to see Natsuo linger by the door as long as he did, he saw in Hina what she sensed in him: an unbearable longing for the one they love. She may have broken things off with Shuu but she’s most definitely not over him. No doubt that will evoke some guilt in Natsuo, who, along with Rui, gave Hina such a harsh “him or us” ultimatum.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 11 – #KaedeGoals

That little cliffhanger about Mai (actually Nodoka in Mai’s body) being seen with Sakuta by a photographer? No biggie; the director of her upcoming film decides to spin it into a marketing opportunity, while Mai admits to the relationship and is candid not only in how it occurred (a kohai confessed in front of the entire school) but why it matters (were it not for him she wouldn’t be back in show business).

Now Mai and Sakuta get to hang out without any problems, and the two are on cloud nine. Then Sakuta gets a letter from “Shouko” whom he later confirms is not the middle schooler of the same name who hasn’t come by the house in a while, but rather his “first crush.”

When he confides in Futaba seeking advice, Futaba texts everything he tells her to Mai, making her status as a confidant now somewhat suspect! It’s all good, once more: Mai is fine with him meeting Shouko, as long as he’s back by six so she can make him dinner. He doesn’t get a kiss, though.

The main dilemma this week isn’t Sakuta and Mai’s relationship or the return of “Shouko”, but Sakuta’s little sister Kaede, who’d kinda served as the show’s mascot up to this point. Still, as a victim of such intense bullying she and Sakuta had to move and she stopped going outside, it was clear the show was going to promote her to the lead in an arc at some point.

Sakuta is about to go to the beach to meet with Shouko, but he’s delayed by the sudden appearance of one of Kaede’s classmates, who saw Sakuta in a magazine tracked him down. She wants to meet with Kaede to apologize for not doing more to stop the bullying, now that the ones who bullied her were themselves bullied out of the school. Back home, the numerous visits from the other girls Sakuta has helped has convinced Kaede that she can’t remain stagnant, and begins compiling a list of goals to become more independent.

Her first small step is to answer the phone when someone other than Sakuta is on the line (in this case, Mai), but the stress of doing that for the first time in a long time causes her to nearly faint. Even more distressing, when Kaede is resting to recover from a fever, Sakuta notices a dark red blotch on her neck; no doubt another symptom of adolescence syndrome, much like his own chest slash marks.

However, Kaede recovers, the blotch disappears, and she keeps taking smal steps, aided in no small part by an extremely kind and understanding Mai, who offers a number of cute outfits she wore in magazine shoots for Kaede to wear when she goes outside.

The day finally arrives, and Sakuta comes home to a fully resolved sister. Still, it takes Sakuta lying about how far outside of the entryway they’ve strayed to get Kaede to follow through; call it one last little nudge to get her where she herself wants to be. It’s a truly triumphant, emotional moment that’s a long time coming; even Sakuta can’t help but tear up.

Kaede was scared of the outside, where the love of their home, like a security blanket, wasn’t out there to protect her. She still is. But she’s far more scared of staying inside, so even though her brother tricked her, she’s grateful.

From there, Kaede takes larger and larger steps until she’s able to roam around outside without clinging to Sakuta. He decides to surprise her by taking a trip to the beach, along with Mai and Nodoka. They have a grand old time, and Kaede is having fun…until her friend arrives, and she retreats behind Sakuta once more.

This friend doesn’t understand why Kaede doesn’t remember her, but Sakuta has an explanation, and it’s something he’s been waiting for the right moment to tell Mai too: Kaede has no memories. I suspect that is to say, no memories from after whatever psychological break she suffered as a result of her bullying.

Obviously, that’s still objectively not good, and looking back at Kaede’s behavior, it has seemed like a part of her was missing beyond the part that could go outside and interact with people. The stagnancy she fears isn’t just about remaining shut in, but about that yawning gap in her memory.

The two main questions are 1.) will and how will Sakuta & Co. help Kaede get those memories back, and 2.) where do “Shouko” and Makinohara Shouko” fit into this equation, if at all?