Classroom of the Elite – S2 10 – Farewell My Lovelies

“The game is rigged, but you cannot lose if you do not play.” —Marla Daniels, The Wire

Paper Shuffle came and went with no students being expelled, and thanks in no small part to Class D’s increased unity and harmony, they picked up quite a few points on Class C. Ascension seems imminent, they just need to remain focused. When Kiyotaka’s study group spots 1-A’s Sakayanaki Arisu chatting with 1-B’s Ichinose Honami, whom Haruka deems “too perfect”, as someone has to have some flaws to be likable. Kiyotaka notices someone is hiding behind a pillar eavesdropping on them.

While walking along with Maya, Kei notices she’s being tailed by a large and unpleasant Class-C student; on their nightly call Kiyotaka tells her she can safely ignore the tail as it’s unlikely to escalate further. But how can he be so sure, and will he be in a position to keep his promise to protect Kei if the harassment does get worse? Meanwhile, Kei snapped a photo of the girl stalking his study group; she’s from Class A, suggesting she was doing so on Arisu’s orders.

In class, more reports of Class-D students being messed with by Class-C, suggesting the class is desperate with D about to supplant them. Suzune asks Kiyotaka if he’ll keep helping her bring their class to Class A. In a nice bit of foreshadowing, he says “as long as it remains necessary”, and then she gives him a book called Farewell My Lovely to check out at the library, as he’d stated his interest in it.

While at the library, Kiyotaka exhibits a measure of chivalry by taking a book off a high shelf for the petite Class-C student Shiina Hiyori; the two have a pleasant little chat about books. Kiyotaka is then taken aside by Chabashira-sensei, who tells him he has a visitor: his father.

Papa Ayanokouji doesn’t mince words: the White Room has resumed, and he wants Kiyotaka, who has strayed from the path laid out for him, to sign a letter expressing his wish to withdraw from the school.

Kiyotaka refuses, Mr. Ayanokouji threatens, and their stalemate is broken by a very unexpected party: Mr. Sakayanagi, Ayanokouji’s former secretary, the current school chairman, and Arisu’s father.

He explains that this school puts a high value on the independence of its students, and he won’t allow a parent to bully one of them into withdrawing against their will. That is that, as Mr. Ayanokouji leaves, but only for now. His mission to bring Kiyotaka, his “most prized possession”, back into the fold has only begun.

Kiyotaka learns that Sakayanagi was the one who recommended him for enrollment, having had his eye on him for some time and seeing his potential (no doubt Arisu sees it too). It’s also clear that Chabashira never knew Kiyotaka’s dad. He considers this a betrayal, for now it’s clear Chabashira has only been using him to try to advance her class to Class A.

That’s something that no longer interests him. He’s content to leave Suzune, Hirata, and the others to continuing those efforts, and he won’t get in their way, but he’s personally done trying to advance the class to Class A. What he’ll do instead remains to be seen, but one of his first calls is to Kei. He apologizes for getting her mixed up in so much trouble, but when he abruptly tells her they’ll no longer be having these phone calls, she’s shocked and genuinely hurt.

Watching him interact with and even seemingly befriend other students of late might’ve softened his image, but we know this kind of brutal coldness is Kiyotaka’s normal M.O. He’s never come out and named any of the people he’s interacted with friends. He even uses the “transactional relationship” label to him and Kei.

While he might not be 100% wrong on that note, the fact is their relationship has evolved to something beyond that, and his inability to see that or act accordingly is one of the flaws that make him likable, despite him acting like such a cold jerk most of the time. I can only imagine Suzune’s outrage at his sudden decision to walk away from the game.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 03 – Heads Up, Tails Down Bad

Kashiwagi P.I.

Kaguya-sama is to my mind never a show that has to scape the bottom of a barrel, because it has a whole cellar full of barrels that are always full. Take the oft-sampled scenario of the romantically inept Student Council having to give advice to the far more experienced Kashiwagi Nagisa. In this case, Nagisa has come suspecting her boyfriend of cheating on her with her friend.

Nagisa proceeds to confess to a number of actual crimes of privacy invasion before making the ludicrous statement of hiring a P.I. because she trusts her man, but every time Miko tries to point out how rashly Nagisa is acting, Kaguya steps in to support Nagisa’s theories. When Miko says going to karaoke with someone is cheating does Kaguya say it isn’t (due to what happened with Miyuki and Hayasaka). Miko is feeling so bad she has to listen to her self-affirmation audio.

Ultimately by talking things through with Kaguya and Miko, Nagisa works up the courage to confront her boyfriend directly. When he reiterates that he likes her and gives her a gold heart necklace, all is forgiven. Miyuki and Yuu believe the guy made a slick move, while Kaguya, Miko and Chika all agree the necklace is lame as hell! Then Nagisa and her bae start making out, and we’re reminded that it’s the student council that’s lame to cast aspersions about gifts when none of them are officially dating.

Lovesick Heart of the Nation

The second segment involves the other side of the love triangle: Nagisa’s old friend Shijou Maki (a dynamic Ichinose Kana). After pretending not to care about Nagisa telling her not to hang out with her BF so much, she walks home slumped over like Charlie Brown (or George Michael Bluth). Yuu and Miyuki are chatting spiritedly when the latter suddenly steps on the prone Maki’s head, accompanied by a sound effect for the ages.

Just as Kaguya and Miko had to counsel (i.e. endure) Nagisa, Miyuki and Yuu are pressed into service as advisors to Maki, who is a particularly haughty member of a Shinomiya branch family, is possessed of incurable tsundere-ness, and can flip the cuteness on and off like a plasma globe. She goes to some dark places but you can tell it helps just to have someone to listen to, even if she deems them (mostly Yuu) an ignoramus.

The two boys agree to help her steal Nagisa’s boyfriend in large part due to this ability to come across as unbelievably cute and sympathetic. Yuu also admires her unvarnished honesty about everything but her love of Nagisa’s bae (finally admitting she does after denying it ten straight times).

After a tense, hostile interaction with her “auntie” Kaguya, Maki says both boys said she was cute, which has Kaguya in Miyuki’s face like stink on shit. But Miyuki can’t very well say he finds Maki cute because she reminds him of Kaguya, not can he?!

Polygraph-Enhanced Fun

In the final segment, Kaguya, still curious about what exactly happened at that group date, asks Chika what goes on at such functions. Chika hasn’t been to one either, but is aware of group date games like one played with 10-yen coins and revealing yes-or-no answers that are kept anonymous by a handkerchief.

Like most seemingly innocuous little games Chika suggests the council plays, this one becomes a battle of wits between everyone to get the others to admit to something they wouldn’t normally admit to. Chika naturally wants to know who is currently in love (three of the five of them…but who’s the third?).

Yuu wants to know who hates him (only one…but it might not be Miko?) Miko wants to know that she’s necessary and wanted (five yesses…even from Yuu). When Kaguya notices that you can tell whose answers are whose by the mint date of the coins, she tries to trap Miyuki into a confession, with the added protection of Chika insisting on a polygraph if any lying is suspected.

Of course, she’s giving Miyuki too little credit not assuming he’d have a defense—in this case a second coin in his pocket that has the same mint date as two others. Unfortunately, his counterattack, to reveal Kaguya has been using the mint numbers to get a leg up, fails when two others admit to doing the same.

When Miyuki and Kaguya are alone in the more dramatically-lit office after school (one of my favorite kinds of Kaguya-sama scenes), Miyuki asks Kaguya if she had group dates on her mind because she heard he went on one. He then clears the air by admitting he did, but didn’t do anything frivolous, and says he wants “at least her” to believe her. When he asks if she does, she doesn’t answer verbally, but sneakily leaves her answer—yes—in coin form on the desk.

While this didn’t pack the emotional or dramatic punch of last week’s masterpiece, it was still a strong episode that followed up on the aftermath of that group date while bringing back Nagisa, a model of romantic honesty, and introducing the intriguing, imperious Maki as a kind of “Kaguya-Lite”. It also looks like the Starship Troopers ending wasn’t a one-off…Good!

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 02 – Better to Not Put on an Act

The Ishigami-Iino Accords

Kaguya-sama is about far more than two goofs who won’t admit their love out of pride and fear. It has the ammo to provide a veritable kaleidoscope of spinoff stories about its other characters. Ishigami and Iino Don’t Get Along could not only be a decent series unto itself, but has an incredibly catchy English title!

That Ishi-Iino isn’t a spinoff from the Kaguya-sama: Love Is War Cinematic Universe is a shame, but it’s also the mark of a great series that it keeps you wanting to see more of its greatness. Also, it’s good enough that it doesn’t have to spin things off. Sometimes a small taste is enough.

So we’ve known for a while now that Ishigami and Iino hate each other…but do they? Sure, they seem to inhabit opposite ends of the Discipline-Rebellion Spectrum, but we know better. Ishigami has as strong a sense of justice as Iino, especially where Iino herself is concerned. He just chooses to conceal it behind an outer crust she loathes.

By the same token, Ishigami obviously respects Iino’s honesty and diligence, or he wouldn’t stand to defend her from embarrassment. The thing is, their practiced hostility has escalated to a level neither Miyuki nor Iino’s friend Osaragi can suffer. Hence, the Ishigami-Iino Friendship Plan.

After an exchange of compliments turns into a hatefest, ear-cleaning becomes awkward contortionism, and Pocky-eating leads to aggressively gnashing teeth, Osaragi ditches Miyuki’s plan and pulls out the big guns, telling the two what a good match they are, and how it’s “typical teen behavior” to not be able to stop yourself from being mean to the one you like.

Ishigami and Iino are so shocked by the checkmate they relent on the spot, then devolve into an automated, emotionless, auto-tuned exchange of Iino saying “I like you quite a lot” and Ishigami returning the sentiment. It’s very far from normal human interaction, but by the letter of what the segment victor Osaragi and Miyuki set out to do, it gets the job done.

Play Along, All Right?

Of course, simply getting the job done on paper is not Kaguya-sama’s M.O., as evidenced by the epic two-parter that closes the episode. This might also just be my favorite segment of all the shows two-plus seasons. After declining several times in the past, Miyuki finally accepts an invite from classmates to go out for karaoke and “networking” with kids from other schools, unaware that it’s really going to be a group date.

Hayasaka can’t help but point this out to Kaguya, but Hayasaka ends up being inconvenienced, as Kaguya orders her to attend the group date and make sure no girls get near the President. Hayasaka is so good at getting herself mixed up in Kaguya’s man mess that one frankly can’t rule out that she does it on purpose, for sport or personal achievement.

This scenario marks the return of Hayasaka’s alter-ego “Miss Herthaka”, and when Miyuki recognizes her, she’s grumpy enough with her plight that she decides to take the fact that he dumped her like a bag of sand when last they met and run with it like Marshawn Lynch in Beast Mode.

After making clear to Miyuki’s pals that he dumped her, she takes the stage and belts out a stirring, pitch-perfect rendition of “My Feelings” by Akasaka Saka/Giorgio Giorgio. If there’s such a thing as anime nirvana, it’s this.

What makes this performance so powerful is that it’s not played 100% as a joke. Hayasaka is legitimately frustrated both by her past failure to seduce Miyuki and Kaguya’s continued taking of the President for granted as someone who will always be available to her.

After the song, Hayasaka and Miyuki have a serious discussion about putting on acts. When she rants about her “little sister” forcing her to come to this to get over being dumped, he feels like he’s talking to the something like the “real her” … which of course she is, since she’s voicing real frustrations! Miyuki, always forthright in everything but his love of Kaguya, feels he can relate to her better, and you get the feeling he likes this “Herthaka” more than the obviously fake one from their first encounter.

Hayasaka then reveals her position on the matter, which is that “no one will ever love you unless you’re acting”, and that weakness and ugliness must be hidden by that acting. He then puts it to him whether he’s actually the real Shirogane Miyuki, or if he overreaches and bluffs. He thinks on this and decides it would probably be best to call it a night.

Hurt You Just a Little

When some rando tries to put the moves on Hayasaka the moment she’s alone, Miyuki returns, takes her by the hand, and leads her to safety, telling her to “play along”. She’s so moved by the gesture, she reserves a room just for her and Miyuki, where she plans to succeed in Kaguya’s dare for her to seduce him.

Hayasaka reports this to Kaguya via earpiece, who is in her covert ops outfit on a rooftop. And again, this is all played straight. We have a legit love triangle here! There’s a part of Hayasaka who likes Shirogane and a part of her that wants to win, and when opportunity like this knocks she’s not going to ignore it. What started as a playful dare is no longer just a game. When Hayasaka cuts off communication, Kaguya panics.

She knows that normally Hayasaka operates within the bounds of common sense. But she also knows that Hayasaka was furious for having to go to the group date to begin with, so who knows what she’s capable of. Kaguya finds the door of the booth where they are, but there she’s paralyzed from further action.

The window is covered by Hayasaka’s coat, rendering it a Schrödinger’s Shirogane scenario. Whatever is or isn’t happening in there, Kaguya’s imagining of what it might be is far worse. And she knows she can’t just barge in without “losing”, i.e. revealing she cares so much about Miyuki that she’ll stalk him when he’s hanging out with friends (which, yes, she does, and is!).

Her solution? Invite Chika to karaoke, being sure to give her the number of the booth. But before Chika can arrive to open the box, Kaguya starts hearing suggestive noises and a flurry of double entendres. When Miyuki exits the booth to go to the bathroom, Kaguya slips in and learns the truth: Hayasaka’s strange utterings were reactions to Miyuki’s rapping.

While I saw this coming, it’s still an excellent callback to Chika’s attempts to improve Miyuki’s vocal skills. But I don’t believe rapping lessons were part of her curriculum judging by the state of Hayasaka. When Chika finally arrives and hears Hayasaka describe what she heard, it immediately puts her off karaoke and the three take off, leaving Miyuki all alone.

On the ride home, Hayasaka admits to Kaguya that she had become somewhat jealous of how happy and carefree she’s been of late, and selfishly wanted to take her down a peg, or as she puts it wanted her to “hurt just a little.”

She accomplished that mission admirably thanks to her intimate knowledge of Kaguya, but Kaguya already knew it must’ve been something like that thanks to her intimate knowledge of Hayasaka; specifically, how twisted her personality is. Hayasaka shoots back that Kaguya’s no different than her, and Kaguya doesn’t argue that fact.

While Hayasaka might have started out as Kaguya’s maid and attendant, the fact of the matter is in the ensuing years they’ve grown into something far more like sisters. Siblings love each other, but they can also irritate or hurt each other like no one else. I really loved this sprawling segment’s ability to balance humor and character drama so perfectly.

Mind you, the credits could have rolled during this last exchange between Kaguya and Hayasaka, but that would simply be “getting the job done.” Instead, the end credits roll over an lovingly, amazingly detailed intro for a Starship Troopers anime adaptation, with Miyuki, Kaguya and Hayasaka reflecting that film’s triangle of Rico, Carmen, and Dizzy.

Again, this ED could be a whole show, and it would be incredible. But here it’s just a fun throwaway gag. We live in rare and tremendous times that anime like this is still made.

RWHL

Vanitas no Carte – 18 – Souhaiter de L’aide

Things start out strong this week, as Vanitas professes his love for Jeanne as he breaks her out of her prison of despair and asks her what she wishes for. The sight of her parents’ heads on stakes instilled in her a self-imposed ban on hopes, dreams, and prayers, but it’s not too late for her, or Chloé. All she has to do is tell Vanitas what she wants…and she wants help.

From there, we’re taken back in time yet again to cover the backstory of—Astolpho Granatum? Is that his name again?—who once had a kind heart and, encouraged by his little sister, even helped a wounded vampire in the woods. His mother told him that his kind streak was a strength and not a weakness, and the fact he and his sister become friends with the young vamp lad seem to bear that out…

…Until the vamp lad and his friends murder and eat Astolpho’s whole family. Ahh, so that’s why he hates vampires so much he’ll try to kill them even if he has no context about who they are or what they’re trying to do…like Noé in the present situation. I appreciate the attempt to make Astolpho’s position more understandable, but I’d be lying if I said an Astolpho backstory was a priority in this arc.

As for Chloé, she seems to be enjoying her new existence outside of her corporeal body, merging with the closed world she created. If everyone in that closed world ever wants to get out, they have to reverse it somehow. That task falls to Vanitas, the only one who can apparently figure out her organ-like Alteration Engine, while Dante and Johann track down his book, which he’ll need to close the deal.

Vanitas’ gambit succeeds, as he manages to play the same tune Chloé used to turn Naenia tangible, thus returning Chloé to the physical world. Jean-Jacques seals the deal by embracing Chloé, telling her all she’s doing to make the world safe for him is for naught if she’s not there to share it with him. Just as Vanitas loves Jeanne, J-J loves Chloé, an won’t allow her to sacrifice herself for his or any other greater good.

Speaking of Jeanne, she comes crashing through the walls of the already shattered library just in time for Vanitas to catch his titular tome and begin the process of saving someone who can still be saved. Whether the drugged-up Astolfo will try to interfere remains to be seen, but I for one hope Chloé isn’t cured of her curse just to be slain by his hand.

Love of Kill – 05 – A Pest On Land and Sea

Hou takes Chateau hostage and sticks her in the back of a car with a bomb, but as soon as she spots the bomb, she’s able to escape the car before it explodes. Despite being only about ten feet from the explosion the most she suffers is some glass in her leg, which I’d call a win.

Song wins his duel with Hou, but it’s not much of a fight, as the main issue is that Hou’s “nerves are fried”, which means it just takes a couple of minutes for his body to realize its riddle with bullets. In those minutes, Song manages to get himself pretty torn up, but he too doesn’t succumb to his wounds until he’s seen Chateau out of the burning warehouse and into his car.

Chateau may be extremely irritated by this guy most of the time, but she still follows a code that won’t allow her to let the man who saved her life bleed out. Thanks to her co-worker Jim (who is the actual most irritating character in the show—like, why no mouth, and why does he talk like that?), she gets him to a mob doctor who stitches him back together.

Chateau sits by his bed and “sleeps”, giving him a chance to slip out. It’s a cute little exchange. The next day she wakes up from a recurring dream where a man, whose hair kind of looks like Song’s covers her face to keep her from seeing his. Then her phone rings that horrible incessant ring, and it’s Song, announcing he’s going on a trip.

It happens to be the same trip Chateau goes on with her boss and Jim after she once again begs his forgiveness for getting into trouble during her suspension. That suspension is apparently suspended for the mission on the megaliner Artemisia, where their job will be to pose as tourist while protecting a VIP.

Along with Chateau and Song, there’s a third assassin aboard: your bog-standard childish happy-go-lucky murderer type. I mean, since he reminds me of Souma Momiji he’s at least a little more interesting than Hou, whose most distinctive feature was his dumb face tattoo. More interesting still will be whatever hijinx Song and Chateau get up to, and how they’ll team up to thwart this kid.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 06 – A Sacrifice Too Far

RGB’s latest mission fails utterly as a collaborative effort, with Ran and Kouki going off in their own directions while Shuuta parkours aimlessly around a cruise ship. It ends with Kunai being shot to death and Kouki about to bring Ran in for questioning before he’s rescued by his DoRed buddies, whom he tells how Kunai was set up by the bigwigs.

Kouki is convinced there was no outcome in which Kunai could be saved, but in any case feels like there’s far too many similarities between Aumi’s visions and Hazard Cast, to the point that he directly tells his dad, in earshot of his assistants, that his dead sister has been calling him asking to guide the future. His dad tells him not to dwell on the past.

No sooner does he say this than a ghost appears on the news—a video recording Kunai made in the eventuality of his death or capture. He reveals his role in developing the Di-Va app meant to help people that the powers that be acquired and corrupted into a virtual drug with the explicit purpose of making Shantytown enough of a mess so as to make it a target for development.

He ends his message by making it clear that DoRed, to which he belonged, had no role in his actitivites; he acted alone, and wants everyone who doesn’t want to be crushed under the heel of The Man to support DoRed in any way they can. DoRed will need all the help they can get, as Kouki’s dad takes him to the top-secret area of the Information Center we’ve been seeing in fits and spurts.

Shuuta, out of the loop as usual but armed with bags of bread crusts, reaches out first to Ran, who is convinced Kouki will sell him and DoRed out, and then Kouki at the ruins of the old school (about to be demolished). The crusts remind Kouki of old and simpler times, and his first interaction with Ran, which was to catch him for stealing apples (Asumi spotted he crime first, but didn’t rat Ran out).

When Kouki meets the kids Ran was trying to feed with the apples, he questions whether he did the right thing. His mother Kanae assures him he did, but the world isn’t perfect, and sometimes some rules have to bent or broken to do the truly right thing. All anyone can do is keep thinking about what is right together.

Kouki’s dad has determined that the right thing to do is to create a system even more invasive than Hazard Cast, which he unveils to the Ward on TV as the KANAE system, named after his wife (who would have surely had many problems with it). Basically a PreCrime system, Shuuta is right to hesitate to update his phone to the preliminary version, even as others around him quickly make the choice that one tap of their phone is a small price to pay for enhanced safety and security

Obviously, they won’t know the real cost until it bites them in the collective ass. And then there’s the CPU that makes KANAE function: Asumi’s desecrated corpse and its still functional brain. This development has been teased for a while now, but I’m surprised by how quickly Kouki goes along with his clearly evil father.

So much so, in fact, that I wonder if he’s only going along with it so he can remain in the thick of things, where he can best put a stop to this before it gets out of hand. Then again, he may have made the choice that the sacrifice of his sister’s dignity and the personal freedoms of the Ward are worth the peace and order that will result. If that’s the case, RGB truly is history.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love of Kill – 04 – Noble Pursuit

Chateau, off-duty and on probation, returns home to visit her mother and to visit the grave of her father, content to be rid of Song Ryang-ha for a bit. Naturally, he follows her there, and it’s probably a good thing too, as she wasn’t sufficiently prepared for the assassins who come for her.

While Song deals with the cut-rate killers, Chateau runs back to her father’s grave, where Hou, the guy she met after her car crashed, is waiting. Once again, Chateau is overpowered, as her stun gun is ineffective against Hou, whose nerves are a bit fried from the drugs he’s taken throughout his life. He knocks her out, again, turning her into a damsel in distress in need of rescue, which is a bit of a downer.

The frustration of Chateau constantly getting her ass kicked is somewhat tempered by a look back at her past, when one Detective Dankworth, one month from retirement, finds her sleeping in a car driven by a boy, apparently dead, named…Song Ryang-ha. Dankworth and his wife end up adopting her, as they’re the only ones she trusts. Let it be said without hesitation that Lil’ Chateau is cute as hell.

So is this Song the same Song who was found apparently dead in that car by Chateau’s eventual adoptive father? Or did the present-day Song simply take his name? I’m inclined to believe they’re one and the same, and that this is the reason Chateau got into bounty-hunting…so that she’d one day encounter him.

It could be he killed her parents, which would make him her arch-nemesis; someone to be killed. So I understand if she suddenly has conflicted feelings about killing him when he continually comes to her aid. Lame car bomb fake-outs aside, I’m intrigued by what Chateau is still hiding from us regarding her deadly admirer.

Vanitas no Carte – 15 – Onze Pour Toujours

Noé is outraged to find Naenia, who killed his beloved Louis, lingering so close to Chloé, to the point he lashes out and makes a mess of supper. But having been on this earth for so much shorter a time than Chloé, he can’t hope to understand why she not only doesn’t mind Naenia’s company, but gave up her true name willingly. For the crimes of crass insolence (and wasting food, something Chloé adorably can not abide), Noé is smacked across the room.

He comes to in the kitchen, where he apologizes and introduces himself to Jean-Jacques. J-J lives such a sheltered existence as Chloé’s attendant, he’s never once even shaken hands with anyone…until Noé. Noé makes clear to J-J that Naenia is his enemy, not Chloé, but all that matters to J-J is that ever since Naenia arrived, Chloé no longer cries every day. He won’t let anyone do anything the Naenia that might make Chloé weep again.

From there we launch headlong into Chloé’s history, which began around 1550, making Chloé well over three hundred years old. When she suddenly became a vampire, her father, Lord d’Apchier, gathered mages and alchemists the world over to study the World Formula and restore his daughter’s humanity. They failed, and her father passed away, but his wish to gain the power of God became a legacy that future d’Apchier generations continued to carry.

All the while, Chloé lingered within the walls of the d’Apchier castle, forever eleven. At one point, she met a young(er) Ruthven, who became her first and only friend. Back then, he was on the side of neither vampires nor humans, but sought to end the struggle between them and forge a lasting peace. I gotta tell you, I liked this younger, more naïve Ruthven to the one who has basically brainwashed Noé to kill Vanitas on command!

It’s also thanks to Ruthven that Chloé met lil’ Jeanne, the closest thing to a true little sister she ever had. By wandering off into the forest Jeanne motivated Chloé to finally leave the castle walls and explore the world outside. Jeanne led her to a bed of blue roses that grew even in the snow and frost. But while these new experiences were powerful and tempting, Chloé could not abandon her family or its long-standing mission to complete the Alteration Engine.

One year/decade, Ruthven returned a changed man, consumed by darkness. He lost and eye, and had become disillusioned by the prospect of peace between humans and vampires. Driven by unchecked ambition, he drank some of Chloé’s blood and attempted to use his power to compel her to obey him, such that he could command the power and knowledge of House d’Apchier. He failed and retreated in shame, but the damage was done: Chloé lost her first friend.

She continued her work on the engine for many years, often returning to the flowerbed Jeane had shown her, slowly becoming consumed by lonelieness. Then Naenia arrived, promising not only companionship, but the opportunity for her wish to be granted. All it would cost is her true name, and the Alteration Engine could be completed. Chloé started to experience nightmares that may or may not have been actual waking events of violence. She even dreamt of slaying her beloved Jeanne.

But when we return to the present, apparently all of that torment was worth it to her, as she activates the Alteration Engine situated in the middle of her gigantic library. Perhaps the Book of Vanitas was the last missing piece to unlocking her success and achieving the wish Naenia had granted.

If nothing else, now that we know a lot more about Chloé, I can empathize with her centuries of solitude and suffering, and desire to restore what all those years had undone. Even if he can get his book back, how will Vanitas “save” someone who chose to be condemned for the sake of her family’s legacy?

P.S. As Vanitas, Jeanne, Dante, and Johann make their way to rescue Noé, Dante confesses that he was given a mission by the “Marquis Machina” (a kind of steampunk Dr. Robotnik) to investigate whether the Alteration Engine really existed. Machina’s real name is Sir Francis Varney, who takes his name from an 1840s serial fiction called Varney the Vampire, which influenced Bram Stoker’s Dracula and was the first work to depict vampires with sharp teeth.

Fruits Basket – 54 – Coming Home

After a cryptic cold open in which Akito shows Kureno a black box presumably containing her father’s remains, we shift to Yuki asking Hatsuharu about Rin. Haru doesn’t know any of the details, but was unaware Rin had become close with Tooru, and gleams with pride. He tells Yuki to thank Tooru, and “if it all goes wrong”, to comfort her.

Kisa and Hiro, who are both taller now, head to Hiro’s house so Kisa can meet lil’ Hinata. Hiro admits that whenever he sees Hinata, he thinks of how stupid he is to always be wrapped up in his vanity and fear. He wants to be a brother who can protect her. That’s why even when he bumps into Haru to ruin the mood, Hiro is intent on apologizing to Kisa, since it was his fault Akito hit her.

He tells Haru that Akito pushed Rin off the balcony, but Akito and Rin both told him to keep his mouth shut. He also knows Rin is trying to break the Zodiac curse, which is why she left Haru—to shield him from whatever consequences she’d face. And as Haru tells these truths to lighten his heart, Kureno spots a maid delivering food to the Cat’s cottage, demands the key, and discovers a starving Rin imprisoned there.

The lovely, innocent exchange between Hiro and Kisa is a preemptive balm for the harsh events that follow in this episode. This is an episode full of beautiful and terrible moments. As soon as he takes his leave of Hiro and Kisa, Haru becomes Dark Haru, and storms right into Akito’s rooms to confront him*—decorum be damned.

*While we, Kureno, Shigure, and Tooru know the truth about Akito’s biological sex, Haru is one of the Zodiac members still in the dark, hence the male pronouns I use for Akito when interacting with Haru.

We’re reminded how scary Hatsuharu can be when he’s pissed off, and he has every right to be, especially when Akito denies he pushed Rin off the balcony and pretends not to know where she is now. Haru is about to get violent with him when Kureno comes in and tells Haru that Rin is in the hospital under Hatori’s care.

Then Kureno scolds Akito for doing something so monstrously cruel. He may have vowed to remain by her side forever, but he didn’t say anything about standing by and letting her pull this kind of shit. For all the shading we’ve gotten into Akito’s own background and trauma, she continues to sabotage any chance of sympathy by being so goddamn villainous.

When Akito’s demeanor changes and he tries to play the victim of Kureno’s betrayal, Haru violently grabs him, but Akito is ready with the gaslighting, saying it’s Haru’s fault Rin is suffering; he dug her grave when he decided to fall in love with her, knowing full well how Akito would react.

Akito tries to turn Haru’s love for Rin against him, into a defect that rendered him worthless when he felt Rin needed him most. And it works—at least at first, as Haru punches the wall instead of Akito, and warns him not to say anything else lest he kill him and then himself.

As he storms off, Kureno urges him never to return there, but instead to go to the hospital to see Rin, who surely wants to see him more than anything. While she was malnourished and barely conscious when Kureno found her, Rin’s first word was “Haru.” Upon hearing that, the rope representing the curse binding Haru with Akito begins to fray.

Rin, meanwhile, ends up escaping from her hospital room, as is her habit, lamenting that she has “no home to go to” anymore. She wanders the streets barefoot and frail, remembering how she ended up in the cat prison in the first place. While sneaking around the Souma compound, Rin was caught by Ren, who agreed to tell her the secret to breaking the curse if she retrieved a “treasure” from Akito’s room: the box Akito called “father.”

Rin is caught red-handed by Akito, her hair is roughly snipped off, and she’s thrown into the Cat’s cottage to rot. As for Ren? She never knew the cure to the curse, and was only using Rin, whom she always dispised. Last week didn’t show us a short-haired Rin; it was Akito with those scissors. Akito warns Rin to go into exile or Haru will lose his eyesight. Rin decides to stay in the prison and waste away, deeming herself “no good” for failing to find the secret to Haru’s happiness—i.e. the cure for the curse.

In her delirious state Rin believes she’s still imprisoned, and wishes that if she’s going to die, that at least her final dream will be of her beloved Haru, spoiling her with his kindness. She gets her wish, except that it’s not a dream: he finally found her collapsed on the sidewalk. Haru was always Rin’s true home—and vice versa—so when she “returns” from her long journey, it’s only appropriate that he say “Welcome Home.” He needs her to come home to him, or it’ll be too lonely to bear.

He scoops her up (she can’t weigh more than 90 pounds). She protests, saying she can walk on her own, but he refuses to let her go, not when he came so close to losing her! When he saw her on the ground years ago, he did nothing, but now he’s older, and wiser, and stronger, and loves her so much more, so no matter how many times she needs to be carried, it would never be a burden for him.

As two random elementary school kids gawk at the powerful, adorable romantic scene unfolding before them, Rin says “I’m home”, and she and Haru embrace tightly as one, her long journey finally at an end. Thank God. Not Akito though…a better god!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 20 – Arachnofamilia

It sure looked like Tanjirou beheaded Rui last week with his Hinokami Kagura Breathing, but alas; in the moment before Tanjirou’s strike hit Rui severed his own head with his threads, and soon reattaches it. He’s mad as hell, and Tanjirou is totally spent, but it’s okay that he can’t lift his hand, because Tomioka Giyuu arrives to finish Rui off with ease, using an eleventh form of Water Breathing.

From there we cut to the lone surviving member of the spider family, the elder sister, and we learn about how Rui built his family. Turns out all his family members were really weak demons with whom he shared his power—which also gave them the same spidery aesthetic. He used their fear to draw them in, an punished and even killed those who didn’t shape up.

The present-day sister once had an older sister who tired of Rui’s pointless charade, and vowed to run away, telling only her sister so she could join her. However, our present-day sister betrayed the other by leading her straight to Rui, who tortured her and strung her up to be burned away by the morning sun.

Back when Tanjirou saw Rui cutting his “sister’s” face, we didn’t know what was going on, but Sister’s face reverted out of fear once Mother and Brother were killed. It’s her first screw-up, but it isn’t her last. That honor goes to when she encases Murata in one of her yarn balls, which fills with digestive fluid that will liquify his clothes and eventually, him.

Murata is saved by one Kochou Shinobu, fresh off of curing Zenitsu. When Sister insists Rui made her kill the scant five people she’s killed, Shinobu has proof she’s lying, as she saw over a dozen of the yarn balls in which Murata is stuck, and estimates the Sister has eaten up to eighty humans. Shinobu agrees to be her “friend”, but only after she’s faced proper punishment for the people she’s killed.

Hayami Saori voices Shinobu like she would any sweet, friendly, kindhearted young woman, only the words she says are anything but sweet. I’d even say Shinobu relishes the chance to show off her unique Insect Breathing ability, whereas Giyuu is much more stoic and businesslike. You can hardly blame her; both her graceful dance-like movements, her delicate blade, and clouds of butterflies make for a hell of a show.

When the Sister realizes she hasn’t been beheaded, that Shinobu lacks the strength to do so, she believes she still has a chance to gain the upper hand. But she’s wrong, because while Shinobu didn’t behead her, she did poison her with Wisteria, resulting in a slower and arguably more gruesome and painful death. She doesn’t burn to ash, either; she’s simply dead, and Shinobu can’t be bothered to do anything but leave her corpse to rot.

With that, we jump back to Rui’s final moments, when he looks back to how he tried to regain memories of his humanity by creating a pretend family. But by now it’s a bit late to engender any sympathy for the guy, nor his treacherous sister who led her sister to a horrible death.

Unlike Nezuko, who has yet to even accidentally kill a human, these demons have long since forfeited any chance of mercy by preying on untold numbers of humans. They were living on borrowed time, and that ran out when they ended up on the wrong end of Giyuu and Shinobu’s blades.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TenSura – 29 – Falling For Her Deceit

Youm wakes up in Mjurran’s lap after getting his ass handed to him in training session. He says he can get used to such a thing, and while Mjurran pushes him off and asks him to stop joking, the fact is, he isn’t joking. Of course, this means everything is going according to Clayman’s plan: Youm not only trusts his spy and puppet implicitly, he’s fallen for her.

Clayman couldn’t care less if Mjurran has fallen for Youm, and Mjurran isn’t even sure Clayman will hold up his end of their bargain. But if there’s a chance she can save Youm—and all the people of Tempest—by obeying Clayman, that’s what she’s going to do.

Benimaru is nominally in charge of the nation with Rimuru still on his way back—it’s the rare episode where the slime doesn’t appear at all. They get a cryptic message via crystal from Albus asking for permission to send their refugees to Tempest, as Milim is about to declare war on Eurazania.

This, while Souei reports 100 knights from Falmuth are on their way to Tempest. As Benimaru attempts to contact Rimuru, the three bad-tempered otherworlders arrive in the city, and are outraged that monsters are enjoying a higher quality of life than they have.

The Three Jerketeers were instructed to stir up some anti-monster shit, and Kirara does this by falsely accusing Gobzo of touching her butt, then pretends to be knocked down by him. This causes an adverse reaction to the other humans around them. I’d really rather not have anime portray a woman lying when IRL it’s so difficult to come forward with legit accusations, but let’s just chalk it up to Kirara being an piece of shit human.

Gobta arrives and deescalates, but angers Kirara even further when he trusts Gobzo’s word over hers because “he’s a friend”. Kirara actually has a point there; just because you’re a friend and believe it’s out of character doesn’t mean someone didn’t do something. Of course, we know full well Gobzo didn’t do it. Gobta is able to calm the crowd, which causes Kirara to break out her Unique Skill “Bewilder” to control their minds.

It fails thanks to Shuna, who nullifies it, declaring that such unpleasant abilities are forbidden in Tempest, due to the widespread harm they can cause. Shuna catches the eye of Shougo, who apparently gets off by torturing and dominating women. Shion can see the sleaze in his eyes and warns him and the other two to leave immediately, or else. Shougo takes it as an invitation to a fight, Shion obliges, and Kyouya uses it as an opportunity to try his own Unique Skills, “Severer” and “All Seeing Eye”.

As this is going down, Clayman delivers Mjurran her orders via telepathy: she’s to turn the capital into an anti-magic area in order to cut the nation off from outside communications. Mjurran prepares to obey, but is stopped in an alley by Grucius, who just received word of Milim declaring war on his country. She says she’s busy and runs off, now understanding why Clayman wants this done so soon.

Grucius chases her down and outs her as a Majin just as Youm appears behind her, demanding to “know more”. Mjurran, who has taken on her Majin form, fully expects Youm to wash his hands of her, but instead, he hugs her, assuring her that he’ll “keep falling for her deceit” over and over. His confession of love is quite abrupt, but she’s not altogether opposed.

The problem is, Clayman has her heart and is controlling her strings. Youm and everyone else she cares about is already in his guillotine, and only by following his orders can she hope to get them out of it. So as Youm and Grucius bicker over her, she unleashes her power, creating an anti-magic barrier around the city. At the same time, Reyheim and his holy warriors who have arrived at the outskirts summon a second barrier that falls over the first.

Instantly, Benimaru’s crystal ball goes dead before he can contact Rimuru, while Shion, currently toying with Shougo, suddenly feels all of her strength leaving her body. As long as those barriers are in place, Kirara, Shougo and Kyouya are probably the most powerful three individuals in a city they couldn’t care less about, full of monsters they don’t consider real people. It goes without saying this is just plain bad news.

Rimuru really dropped the ball on this by focusing on friendly relations and not taking steps to counter all of the less-friendly moves against him and his nation. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to solve this crisis with diplomacy, and while he is supremely powerful in this world, so are the three Otherworlders. But first things first: he needs to get home, like right now!

Hortensia Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – A Glimmer of Hope in an Age of Turmoil

What have we here….an un-ironic, non-isekai, no-nonsense Euro-style medieval fantasy epic? Welcome to Hortensia Saga, which plunges us right into the thick of an attempted coup…what odd timing

One of the king’s loyalist retainers transforms into a giant werewolf and kills him right before his daughter’s eyes, and then goes on to kill one of his baddest-ass knights, Fernando Ober (or Albert, depending on the subs).

The late Fernando’s brother Maurice Bauldelaire (Hi, Tsuda Kenjirou!) arrives at the Ober estate to tell his nephew Alfred the news that his father is dead, making Alfred the new Lord of Ober.

Maurice also rescued the adorable Princess Mariel, who cut her hair short and poses as a young lad named Marius whom Alfred takes under his wing as his squire. That’s fine with Mariel, who wants to become stronger so she can protect those she cares about.

Marius and Lord Alfred were brought together by shared tragedy and grief and become fast friends. If Alfred is aware Marius is actually a princess in disguise, he never mentions it, even after four years pass and she becomes his trusty squire. That’s a helluva time jump, and I kinda wish a little more time was spent on developing their friendship, but alas, this saga has a lot of ground to cover.

In those four years both were trained by Maurice and feel ready for their first real battle against the forces of Camelia (the retainers who betrayed the Hortensian crown). It doesn’t go particularly great, as their allies were pre-slaughtered and both youngins have to be saved by Maurice, but the two had each other’s backs, didn’t give up, and escaped with their lives, so call it a learning experience.

Marius is sufficiently injured that she doesn’t wake up for days, but when she does, Ober’s maid Nonnoria (Ueda Reina, pushing a bit too hard) is there to welcome her back to the land of the awake.

Marius joins a discouraged Alfred at his family grave where they met four years ago, Alfred declares his resolve to become much stronger, and Marius declares she’ll become stronger right beside him. The one thing they can’t do is give up hope. Little does Al know his squire is a girl and the heir to the kingdom he serves!

I was ready to pass on Hortensia when its opening sequence involved a hefty helping of lazy CGI extras, and featured characters who weren’t that much better designed or animated. If you’re going to go as arrow-straight with your milieu as this, you’d better bring it with the execution.

What actually kept me watching was the voice acting of Horie Yui and Hosoya Yoshimasa, two seiyuu I admire but haven’t seen in a lot of leading roles of late. Their work elevates a classic but bland premise, a rushed narrative, and merely serviceable production values. I’m putting this in my “maybe” pile for this season.

Great Pretender – 18 – The Pressure is the Reward

Makoto, Abby, and Cynthia are bound, fitted with weights, and taken out to sea to be executed. However, Oz begs Suzaku Akemi to spare his boy. Oz tells Makoto to kill Abby and Cynthia to prove his loyalty, and the two women tell him they’re neither friends nor family, and would kill him if they were in his shoes.

Makoto doesn’t believe that, and in any case can’t hurt either of them, so Oz shoots them instead, and they fall overboard and under the waves, apparently dead…but quite possibly not? What matters is Makoto thinks they’re dead, and when Akemi offers him Oz’s life, he takes it.

For several days Makoto neither talks nor eats, but turns a page when he’s able to grieve his losses in Akemi’s welcome arms. Two months pass, and she’s taken him under her wing like a surrogate son—replacing the one who walked away from the family business.

Because Makoto is a highly capable person who increases Akemi’s profits, she puts him in charge of the human auctions without hesitation and arranges for him to have a room at her house, deepening their relationship. Ishigami has never seen the boss like this, and fears she’s taking it too easy.

He makes sure Makoto understands that the pressure he’s feeling is both the reward and what keeps one on their toes enough to hang in there. He also warns him that while Akemi won the last round, Shanghai problem isn’t going to go away. Makoto comes home to find Oz outside his apartment. (If he faked his death, it stands to reason Cynthia and Abby are probably fine too, though that’s left up in the air for now).

From a slick office overlooking a futuristic, fluorescent Shanghai, Liu has his fortune told by a famous fortune teller—whom we later learn was paid by Laurent to give him a particular fortune that will accelerate his plans to “resolve” things with their Japanese parent. After the teller leaves, Laurent walks in asking for Liu.

As Liu tells Chen, how a book was translated made the difference in which received the Nobel Prize. It’s the same with international business negotiations. Flashback to when Laurent was a boy in Brussels, and intrinsically understood the value and the power of being a good interpreter…as well as the cost of not having adequate skills.

Laurent’s mother, who is severely dyslexic, gets swindled and ruined by a businessman, all because she couldn’t read what she was signing. While cooking dinner for her and Laurent while out of sorts, the pan slips out of her hands and we can speculate that she was killed by oil burns.

Flash forward several years to Paris when Laurent is a poker hustler and womanizer. The men who lost to him beat him unconscious, but when he wakes up in an alley, filthy and bloodied, he spots the very man who swindled his mother years ago—and whom he blames for her death.

Laurent buys a knife at the hardware store and follows the man, but when he chooses the time to stab him, a dark-complexioned, white-haired woman steps in front of him and the blade plunges into her instead. In seeking revenge for his mom, Laurent accidentally stabbed the wrong person.

Makoto is hearing about Laurent’s past from his suddenly-not-dead(again) Oz. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two were in cahoots, while Makoto is yet again an unwitting pawn in an even longer con, even as he and Akemi grow closer as surrogate mother and son.

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