Assassins Pride – 03 – A Fight in the Museum

What initially appeared to be a rest episode following the excitement of the tournament suddenly becomes much more in a well-structured, satisfying outing that elevates the series and makes me excited to keep watching.

The foreshadowing for what’s to come is right there at the start, as Melida echoes our curiosity about Kufa’s mysterious past. She rightly points out that there’s almost nothing he doesn’t know about her, so she wants to learn more about him. He even casually mentions he hails from “the land of eternal night”, beyond any safe human habitations.

That exploration has to wait, as Melida has a festival to attend, in which all the girls in her class wear the same dresses handed down by their senpais. Melida is looking forward to wearing the same dress as Elli, and vice versa, but Elli’s maid Othello has other ideas, and hand-makes a garment that, while gorgeous and of higher quality, brings bitter tears to Elli’s eyes as she has to run from her classmates’ harsh gazes and comments.

Melida and Elise aren’t just related, they’re the best of friends going way back, so it’s heartbreaking to see the adults (other than Kufa) treat them as if they’re enemies and pawns in the struggle for control of the Angel family. Neither of them want to fight one another; they want to support each other and have good times together. Is that so much to ask in a world of eternal darkness?

When the two are kidnapped by the Grimface Guild, their bond is tested once more when the shady man with the bandaged face announces his plan to forcibly take Elise’s Paladin Class and graft it onto Melida, overwriting her current Samurai Class. A dastardly plan, but good thing the guy isn’t too great with details.

While he sealed the mana of both girls, he failed to realize that the materials in Elli’s fancier outfit and tiara are packed with mana. Applying Kufa’s lesson about using whatever you can to survive, Melida fashions a torch with which she dispatches the low-level Lancanthropes of the kind Elli has always been afraid.

Melida’s pluck and resourcefulness buys time for the big guns to arrive and mop up, and it’s in his fight with Bandage-face that we learn that Kufa Vampir is, well, a half-vampire, or half-the strongest of Lancanthropes. It’s great to finally get a smirk out of the guy, and now I know why he had such a sedate performance in earlier episodes; he was repressing his true vampiric nature.

It could also explain why Melida is so smitten with him (since vampires can glamour humans), though I chalk that more up to the fact that among adults, he’s the only one to actually put faith in her abilities and not treat her like a pawn to be discarded if she doesn’t shape up. He’s also handsome, well-spoken, kind, and doesn’t forget that the one festival thing Melida was looking forward to most (other than being with Elli in the parade) was have a dance with him, so they do.

He also reiterates his undying commitment to her, having told the bad guy earlier that even if she ends up surpassing him and will set about hunting him, he’ll gladly stick his neck out. He’s all in on Melida, and I can’t blame him; the girl hustles and never gives up. She’s got nowhere to go but up…as long as Kufa can keep other assassins off her back!

P.S. Elli eventually changes into the same dress as Melida. Daaaaaaaaw.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 11 – No Time to Take Things Slow

Rika truly was transformed by her love of Amagi. Far from being disappointed or feeling betrayed by Juujo for going and getting herself knocked up, Rika is firmly in her corner. When Hitoha argues the other side too far, Rika almost calls out Hitoha’s own relationship before storming off, leading Hitoha to declare it’s “wrong to stop in the middle of things”—a glorious line considering its subtext.

Kazusa and Momoko are out of the loop, and so ponder and worry together right up until Momoko asks her who’d she’d rather sleep with to keep the world blowing up: her, or Milo-sensei. When Kazusa says she’d pick Milo because she’d “have to go with a guy,” then goes in for a “best friends!” hug, Momoko dodges, warning Kazusa to watch out for Niina before storming off herself.

Hitoha has noticed her interactions with Milo have become “softer and warmer” since their semi-cathartic encounter. She believes it’s because he interpreted her childish tears as being “overwhelmed by his kindness” when in reality, she felt so pathetic it actually felt good. With that in mind, she’s not quite ready to give up on him.

Meanwhile, Niina has never felt hatred about her present self, or more determined to eliminate that self as soon as possible. With Izumi unwilling to play ball, she arranges a meeting at a hotel with Saegusa, who is, unlike Milo, perfectly willing to follow through, the pervert.

But as he starts to touch her, Niina discovers something about that self she hates so much: it won’t be killed so easily. When Saegusa’s gross face and gross mouth and gross white nose hairs get too close, she instinctively slugs him, and flees.

The next morning, the only two who show up for lit club are Kazusa…and Niina. After a beautiful monologue that begins with her being lost in the haunted forest of those nose hairs, she tells Kazusa straight up that she’s in love with Izumi and plans to confess to him, even if he loves Kazusa.

To Niina’s shock, Izumi doesn’t react in anger, but in understanding, love, and gratitude. She wouldn’t have had the courage to confess to Izumi were it not for Niina’s help, so what kind of friend would she be to deny her the opportunity to do the same?

Niina and Kazusa go into the “best friends” hug Momoko wouldn’t, and everything seems hunky-dory…until we see Kazusa racing home in an absolute panic. She’s not sure what else she could have done in that situation, but she sure as shit isn’t happy about it!

In this episode full of people who believe they’re running out of time, Kazusa believes the only thing to do to stave off the threat of Niina is to put her mark on Izumi immediately. It just so happens his folks aren’t home, and she invites herself up to his room.

Her sexy underwear didn’t arrive in time, but she intends to make do, presenting herself for him to kiss, and when he expresses confusion, she declares her desire to do it with him, straight up. He tells Kazusa he wants to “treat her right” by taking things slow, but he also brings up Niina, souring the mood and leading to Kazusa’s early exit.

To add insult to injury, the underwear arrives, but Kazusa is so flustered by their presence she quickly snips them to tiny shreds with scissors. We segue from that particularly childish display to a very mature and elegant phone conversation between Rika, who is growing increasingly weary of herself (calling herself “a shameful disgrace”, and Amagi, warning her not to badmouth the girl he likes.

Their bliss is rudely interrupted by her mother bursting in the room. The next day there’s an all-school assembly where the principal and vice-principal announce that all “non-platonic interaction between the sexes” is banned with immediate effect. Rumors fly through the student body, including that Sonezaki and Amagi were spotted outside a love hotel and will now be expelled.

The scene of Rika being guided into a cab by her mom, like some kind of criminal, possibly never to return, is witnessed by Kazusa, Niina, Momoko and Hitoha, in an unlikely but very welcome reunion. It’s the start of the girls deciding to put aside their differences for Rika’s sake, their sakes, and the sake of the entire school.

Hitoha, who (rightly) blames herself for putting Rika and Amagi in that place at that time, is ready to confess, but Milo-sensei beats her to it, albeit keeping her name out of it (though he refers to her as “someone he’s considering a future with” in his lie). But the principals won’t budge; after Juujou, they’re prepared to make an example of Rika and Amagi.

Later, in the clubroom, Milo assures Hitoha he’ll keep fighting for Rika, but also admits he doesn’t quite have a plan for doing so at the moment. That’s unfortunately not good enough for these maidens in their savage season, who must make the most of this time and can’t afford to endure the oppression of the school’s new ban.

So, after Kazusa gives Izumi a solemn call telling him she’s about to commit a “grave sin,” she joins her sisters in kidnapping Milo-sensei, beating and tying him up, and using him as a hostage. The school staff is sent their demands, and when they arrive at the school the four girls are there to repeat them: lifting of the ban, reinstating of Rika, and an apology, or else.

No negotiations, no retreat: the maidens have spoken! As amazingly awful as it was to watch them nearly destroy each others’ friendships, this latest emergency of injustice has brought them back together, at least for now. Watching them use their powers to save one of their own another is an inspiring sight to behold, though I can’t see there not being serious consequences. Still, what’s done is done—and they did it together.

3-gatsu no Lion – 25

After Matsumoto and Smith mess around with the towering Kumakura’s huge shoes, we see a shogi den settled down for lunch in June…when I guess it’s to hot to eat outside? As he munches on his healthy yet high-class meal, Nikaidou rants about how Rei must get to the finals of the Newcomer Tournament so they can face one another, then proceeds to analyze Rei in a manner that’s far too accurate for Rei’s taste.

When Nikaidou tells him it stands to reason he’d know his deepest depths like no one else, because they’re not just rivals but best friends, Rei, a paragon of stoicism to that point, freaks out and books it out of the room. “Leave him be,” an older player says, “it’s funnier that way.” And to a geezer like him who was one, teenagers are funny, with their needless emotional outbursts and poor organization of priorities.

But what I took out of the first half of “June” is that Hey, Rei is his Nikaidou and Nikaidou is Rei’s. Rei has a friend. Not the only one, either! That fact might embarrass him, but that’s progress, and it took a lot for him to get to that point.

In the second half of “June” we get a welcome cut to the Kawamoto residence, where Grampa makes his first appearance this season (his love of and fawning over Momo will never get old, because let’s face it, Momo deserves all the love). He’s holding a brainstorming session for new sweets after the success of the last one.

When Momo is asked what goes in the water, she first says “duck”, but a duck on top of an agar sweet could easily fall off, while a duck encased in that agar would look like a dead one. Then Momo suggests a sandal, recalling a time she lost one while Akari was walking with her near the water. Gramps instantly declares her a genius and a prodigy.

But there’s something off about this scene: Hinata. She doesn’t say a word, and has her head down as she scribbles into a notebook. At bathtime, Akari finds her sitting alone on the stoop, and when asks what’s wrong, Hina says “nothing” and shows her sister a smile that’s probably forced, because it’s gone again when she’s alone in the bath, looking up at the moon.

So what’s up with Hina? I can guess, considering she’s entering adolescence, but little did I know the next segment would serve as a dark preface to that question’s answer. In the present day Rei notices a plant with the same leaves as a “ladybug bush” he noticed when he was a little kid being teased, bullied, and ostracized at school.

As we know, Rei chose shogi to please his stepfather, willing to endure the hate from the man’s biological children because he had no choice. Now we know to the extent Rei, Shogi Prodigy is not the product of a nature or nurture, but pure, elemental survival.

Rei had no safe haven from the hatred of classmates or stepsiblings. He made himself more invisible and indifferent to prevent escalation at school, but trying to ingratiate himself with his stepparents and not feel like a burden only intensified his siblings’ resentment towards him.

As much as Kyouko’s been humanized in the present, the villainous version reappears in these flashbacks, as someone who couldn’t give a shit Rei’s problems, either the loss of his family or the continued abuse he faces at school. He’s a creepy eyesore to her. No wonder it’s still hard for him to talk to her today!

Shogi wasn’t a dream or aspiration, it was a life raft. Instead of reacting to the horrible things in his life, he buried his nose in shogi books, studied feverishly, and played like his life depended on it, because he thought it did. A perfect and devastating visual is of him desperately treading water in a dark sea, with nothing to cling to but a floating shogi board.

Things are much better for Rei now; he has friends, a surrogate family that loves him unconditionally, and even a place to hang out at school—but though he still carries wounds and scars that may never heal. More importantly to the closing act, a product of his ordeal is that he can spot the warning signs of others enduring the same from a mile away, as he instantly does when Hina enters the room.

She’s missing her left shoe (in a weird, prophetic echo of the shoe Momo suggested for the dessert), the sock is filthy, and her face is a raw mess of tears. For the show to so quickly and concisely reassert all the crap Rei had to go through, only to visit it upon one of the kindlest, gentlest souls in the show in Hina, is almost too much to bear, especially when the episode ends before we’re able to learn the details or see her be comforted.

I guess the details don’t matter; it would seem she’s now going through the same thing Rei did. I can only hope that if she cannot find a solution at school, at least going home won’t just add to her shit sandwich. Unlike Rei, who only had shogi, she has Rei, Akari, Momo, and Gramps. Being a teenager is usually terrible for everyone, but it’s still worse for some than others.

Sakura Trick – 01

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First off, what we have here is a silly school romance comedy that’s far better-looking than you’d expect, like Love Lab last Summer. A typical shortcut is employed (not coloring in the extras), but we liked the clever use of symbols to preface actions and lines by characters, be it Yuu’s flower, Haruka’s ribbon, or Yuzu’s…a yuzu for Yuzu. That frees up animation resources for when they counted the most, like when Yuu and Haruka are in close physical contact, which is surprisingly often.

Any hopes of this being a subtle Yuri show along the lines of Aoi Hana or Sasameki Koto surviving past the cold open were were promptly, cruelly defenestrated by the off-putting OP, which was a bit too exhibitionist for our taste. But once that was over, things settled down nicely. There’s no trick to Sakura Trick; it never comes close to anything resembling drama or peril. It’s just a pleasant slice-of-life about two girls starting high school who are Pre-Into each other. Their exploits probably wouldn’t be too scandalous except in more conservative high schools. We’re not sure whether this is one such school, but it can’t hurt to not get caught regardless!

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The episode is split into two stories (a la Kill Me Baby, mais contrairement Kimi ni Todoke). The big event of the A-part—Yuu and Haruka’s first kiss—informs those of the B-part: Haruka is worried Yuu forgot about it, but is ultimately proven otherwise. Yuu (Iguchi Yuka) is the shorter, peppier, more naturally popular one while Haruka (Tomatsu Haruka. Haruka Matata!) is the taller, bustier, clingier, more jealosy-prone one. And even though the A-part is mostly from Haruka’s POV, there’s a good overall balance to their interactions and banter. They work as a couple.

We enjoyed how a big reason Yuu and Haruka got to be alone so early and often was essentially because their school is failing, because there aren’t enough kids to justify keeping it open another year. That means there was a vacant, lightly-guarded classroom to retreat to. They eventually end up in a spot of playful danger when teachers notice the door ajar and lock them in, but Haruka’s initial clumsiness is neutralized by Yuu’s surprising strength and athleticism. Hey, we’re talking about them jumping between verandas—get your minds out of the sewer! On that note, we’re pleased to report that there wasn’t a single panty-shot in the whole installment, which is…kind of amazing.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)