In / Spectre – 15 – So Generous, It’s Creepy

This episode was an emotional roller coaster! It begins by rewinding from Yuki-onna’s request to Kotoko to the police detectives questioning Masayuki. Their reasons for suspecting him of murdering his ex-wife are numerous: Mahiru left a note accusing him should she die suspiciously; the beginning of his name scrawled on her hand; and camera footage of Masayuki with a woman that looks just like her.

The police have reasonable cause to suspect, but not arrest Masayuki, and his failure to definitively state he had no alibi doesn’t help his case. But what choice does he have? He can’t tell the police he was having tempura and drinks with a yuki-onna on the night of Mahiru’s murder. Why, they’d think he was nuts…even though it’s the truth! Days pass and the police don’t bother Masayuki again, but it’s still looknig bad.

Then Yuki-onna, who was present in rabbit form for the entire talk with the police, asks him if she looks like his ex-wife, and he admits that she does, so it was Yuki-onna in the camera photo. Hers was the face of the one person in his life who didn’t betray him, but he admits he felt bad for marrying for whom he was otherwise unsuited.

Masayuki decides he’ll head out and try to find the real culprit, but Yuki-onna tells him to wait, and when he keeps going with a full head of steam,. she freezes him in his tracks—literally! 

Yuki-onna correctly diagnoses this as Masayuki being impatient and restless and wanting to prove his innocence at any cost, but with no leads and nothing to go on, the best move is to stay put, eat some food, get some rest. Then she remembers that her Ladyship, the Goddess of Wisdom, is just the person to solve this case, so she reaches out to her.

Yuki-onna flies Masayuki deep into the mountains to a cave where Kotoko is waiting. Rather than her going right into the particulars of the case, Masayuki gets a better taste of who Kotoko is, namely someone still quintessentially human despite her status as a goddess to supernatural beings near and far. That’s because Kotoko is upset that Kurou blew her off and she had to get cold pork cutlet from the local konbini.

I was so happy to see my favorite goddess of wisdom meeting my new favorite human-yokai couple, about to dish out the solution to their problems. But that’s where the roller coaster starts hurtling down to the earth, as Kotoko points out that not only does Yuki-onna’s wishy-washy sense of human time make her a poor alibi, but Masayuki might have capitalized on that poor sense to manipulate her into trusting him implicitly.

With Yuki-onna’s unwavering trust, Masayuki could kill his ex-wife one night, have tempura with Yuki-onna, and say they were doing the latter on the night of the murder, thus making him look innocent in her eyes and persecuted by the police. He could even convince her to kill the business partners who betrayed him.

Kotoko is so precise (as always) in laying out this theory that it even had me questioning if Masayuki really did have such a diabolical plot in motion, and had pulled the wool over Yuki-onna’s eyes with food, drink, and companionship. But you know who didn’t suspect Masayuki, even after hearing all this? Yuki-onna herself. She prostrates herself, says Masayuki has a truly kind heart, and demands that her Ladyship reconsider her stance.

Kotoko responds to Yuki-onna’s display by making it clear she’s all too aware that Masayuki isn’t the culprit, and that everything she uttered about otherwise was a lie. Among the reasons she trusts Masayuki? He’s been refusing Yuki-onna’s sexual advances! If he’d wanted to gain her trust quickly, he’d have swept her off her feet.

While Kotoko’s theory of Masayuki being a yokai-manipulating criminal mastermind was harsh and at times cruel, it was still crucial for her to say what she said, so she could enlighten Masayuki to the fact that Yuki-onna trusted him so much, she was even willing to defy her goddess for his sake.

By underscoring the courage Yuki-onna demonstrated for him, Kotoko hopes Masayuki will make the effort to regain some of his own courage. Even if this criminal investigation is all tied up with a neat bow and he gets off scot-free (as he should), Kotoko suspects that won’t be the end of Masayuki’s troubles.

A new start is in order. Masayuki owns up to being terrified of interacting with people—that lack of interaction is why he doesn’t have a human alibi—and tenderly gathers Yuki-onna’s cold white hand into his to thank her for going to bat for him. As for the true culprit of his ex-wife’s murder? Naturally, Kotoko already knows that too!

In / Spectre – 14 – Youkai Alibi

In/Spectre can really spin a good yarn. This week we meet Muroi Masayuki, who is pushed off a mountain by his best friend. As he lays contemplating his imminent death, a spunky yuki-onna (Yuuki Aoi) pays him a visit. She’s not there to kill him, though she does think long and hard about it when he knocks her looks!

Yuki-onna subverts Masayuki’s idea of her kind by building an conjuring an igloo around him so he’ll last the night, then flying him down the mountain in a princess carry, all for half of the cash he’s carrying. Once back in town, he’s able to walk in on his former friend lying about what happened and finger him for attempted murder.

Eleven years pass, and Masayuki moves back to the town by the mountain where he met the Yuki-onna. As luck would have it, he doesn’t need to search far for her, as she’s enjoying soft serve in human form. When he tells her about the time he met a yuki-onna she’s initially furious he broke his vow of silence, but he’s sure she’s the same person, so he technically isn’t.

Masayuki is coming off a divorce from a woman who cheated on him and tried to kill him, as well as the hostile takeover of his company by another former friend. Understandably distrustful of future human interactions, he sought her out. Yuki-onna is eminently interested in human food and drink (and cars!), so he agrees to buy her booze and cook for her at his bachelor pad.

An adorable, mutually beneficial friendship ensues. The connection to the In/Spectre we know finally comes when Yuki-onna speaks glowingly about her lady and Goddess of Wisdom, Kotoko. Yuki-onna cleared befriending Masayuki with Kotoko, and even got approval for sexual relations with him should things go that way (as long as they use protection!)

The good vibes suddenly sour when detectives come to Masayuki’s door to inform him that his ex-wife has been murdered, but that’s where Kotoko comes in. Yuki-onna reports that she knows for a fact Masayuki wasn’t the culprit because she was with him at the time of the murder. The problem is she can’t go to the cops and Masayuki can’t say the source of his alibi is a yokai.

It looks to be a fascinating case, and one that has a lot more resonance now that I’ve come to know and become quite fond both Yuki-onna and Masayuki. They make a surpassingly cute and charming couple whose playful banter and cozy chemistry rivals Kotoko and Kurou, and if anyone can get this out of this legal dilemma, it’s the Goddess of Wisdom.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 12 – School’s Out for Winter

As the Dawn of Fold attack continues, the Dads are on the move. Vim Jeturk decides to pilot his Sol Dilanza rather than be Shaddiq’s puppet any longer. Delling finds Miorine, but true-to-character, his first words aren’t “Thank God you’re alright” but “What are you wearing?” since she’s not in an evac suit.

Poor Suletta is still shut off from the rest of the plant by the emergency bulkheads, but Sophie spots her, and shoots around her area to try to goad her into running off to the Aerial. When Dominicus tries to subdue her with Antidote, Sophie goes up to Permet Level Four … nearly killing herself in the process.

Like the bloody epilogue that got Witch from Mercury off to such a stirring start, this season one finale really accentuates the essential frailty of human beings. Delling is seriously wounded by a piece of errant shrapnel, while using his body to shield his daughter. For all his abuse and neglect, when the chips were down, he chose her over everything else.

When Norea spots GUND-Arm’s spaceship—with Earth House still on board—she takes aim and prepares to destroy it as part of the mission to keep anyone from escaping. She only stays her hand when Nika flashes the correct code with a signal light. Nika saves everyone on that ship, including herself, but Martin sees her signaling to the enemy. The gig is up.

When Guel overhears that a Gundam from Asticassia is on Plant Quetta, he pilots a mobile suit and heads out, determined to move forward “after Suletta”. But in the heat of his first real space battle, he almost loses it. He’s able to do what is necessary to survive—i.e. kill someone—but the one he ends up killing is his own father, Vim.

Suletta manages to crawl her way through the plant and make it to Hangar 78 where Aerial is—just as Lady Prospera knew she would. Mercury gets there first, and is about to be discovered by Dawn when Prospera arrives and kills them all. Mercury is shocked, but her mother lays out the calculus. All she did was move forward and gain two by killing others to save her.

There’s a beautiful, heartbreaking shot of Prospera and Suletta on opposite sides of a doorway, splattered blood between them. It can’t be any clearer: this is where moving forward means you can’t go back. Suletta, so easily manipulated by her mother and their credo, steps onto that blood and crosses the threshold.

When Sophie arrives to play, Suletta is already in Aerial’s cockpit and deflects her attacks with her Bits, then fires up her rockets and shoves Sophie the hell out of the hangar, scolding her for behaving in such a crass manner. That said, it’s my assumption Sophie may never have had a mother to scold her.

Suletta doesn’t know it, but as she scuffles with Sophie and then Norea, she’s buying time for the authorities to arrive with reinforcements. Once an entire patrol fleet enters the area, Naji gives the signal to retreat. While she complains, even Sophie doesn’t disobey, and hopes to see her “Big Sister” again. I’m sure she will.

Shaddiq gets word that the Dawn’s operation failed, and he doesn’t really react, wearing the same serene smile as usual. While I’m sure he’s been careful in trying to keep distance between himself and Earthian terrorists, the fact he doesn’t have Aerial and Delling isn’t confirmed dead will surely come back on him in some manner.

But there’s is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing more shocking and upsetting than the final scene of the season, in which Miorine is cornered by one straggling member of Dawn while pushing her injured father on a makeshift gurney. Before he can kill Delling, Suletta blasts through the bulkhead and smashes him with Aerial’s hand, turning him into a fine paste of blood and guts just inches from where Miorine stands.

Suletta hops out of the cockpit with her usual chipper demeanor, and even jokes about being such a klutz when she slips on the blood and guts. She reaches out her hand—which again, is covered in blood and guts of a man she just killed—to her bride. Miorine is quite rightly absolutely aghast and terrified at the Suletta before her. “How can you smile right now,” she asks, before declaring her groom a “murderer”.

All season Witch from Mercury had been lulling us into a false sense of security by showing us duel after bloodless duel at space high school. Well, graduation has come early for Guel, Nika, Miorine, and Suletta, in a cruel blast of twisted metal and a spray of blood. Nothing will be the same going forward for any of them. In other words, it’s Gundam being Gundam.

To be fair to Suletta, I’m not sure what else she could have done in that moment when it was either the shooter or Miorine. But now Suletta’s innocence is gone forever, Miorine will never look at her the same way again, and she isn’t even aware. For all she gained by following her mother’s motto to the letter, we’ve yet to see what she’ll lose. That will be revealed in season two this coming Spring.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 11 – Renewal of Vows

As GUND-Arm arrives at Plant Quetta to retrieve Aerial, Suletta has never felt more isolated or useless, both from her bride and her colleagues. Her mother Prospera, meanwhile, has made inroads with Delling, possibly at the wrong time considering the multifaceted plot against him.

Dawn of Fold holds the transport Guel is on and order them to carry on like nothing’s amiss while they hitch a ride to Quetta. Guel notices they’re using Jeturk mobile suits, thus doing the one thing a capable captive shouldn’t do: draw attention to yourself. Sophie, one of Dawn’s pilots, now knows he’s someone to keep an eye on.

Suletta has withdrawn so much into her own insecurities and fear that she ends up without a lunch, and ends up sitting in the space bathroom alone. Guel’s father gets fed up with Delling to the point he’s escorted away by his guards, but that turns out to be intentional, as he plants a transmitter on one of those guards.

It’s all part of the scheme he’s carrying out with Shaddiq. But while Jeturk wants the Earthians they arranged to commence the attack in two hours, Shaddiq has other plans. Ultimately Jeturk is just a pawn in his game. He gives the go order immediately, and Dawn of Fold springs into action.

While this is going on, Suletta is withdrawn into her depression spiral, and calls her mom to say she’s become scared of everyone and everything. Prospera tells her to come to the hangar where she and Aerial, her family, are waiting. But when Miorine learns of Suletta’s location and that’s she’s been avoiding her, she forces open the bathroom door and blocks the way. Suletta flees and a zero-gravity chase ensues.

Miorine ends up tricking Suletta by pretending to be out of breath, knowing she’ll come to her aid. When she does, Miorine grabs her tight and doesn’t let go, and the two have a much-needed reconciliation. While Miorine doesn’t own up to how distant she’s been due to GUND-Arm business, she tells Suletta that she needs to reach out and say something when something’s troubling her.

The only reason Miorine is there and GUND-Arm even exists is because of Suletta’s motto to move forward and gain two. Because of that, she will continue to rely on Suletta to help her with this new life. Moreover, she needs her groom to tell her she can rely on her, and that she won’t lose any duels, and she won’t leave her side.

It’s a beautiful cathartic scene that reaffirms their relationship. I’m immensely glad these two made up before shit hit the fan, which happens almost immediately after. Unidentified mobile suits disperse jamming pods to isolate Quetta, and a plant-wide emergency is sounded.

Jeturk’s dad knows Shaddiq backstabbed him, while Shaddiq tell his Grassley housemates that even though Miorine is on Quetta, if luck is with her (as it was with him, an orphan), she’ll survive the strike.

There’s also a knowing cut to Nana, who has betrayed Suletta, Miorine, and her Earth House/GUND-Arm family and friends. She was the key to Shaddiq getting in touch with Dawn of Fold, and will carry a fair share of the responsibility for the impending consequences.

There’s also the little matter of one of Dawn of Fold’s two Earthain witch pilots, Sophie, being a complete loose cannon. She starts her cutting laser before her fellow witch Norea despite that not being the plan, and then refuses to be a mere distraction in the operation. It’s clear she’s going to do what she wants, adding a chaotic element to Shaddiq’s careful planning.

As for that luck Shaddiq mentioned, Miorine and Suletta end up separated on opposite sides of an emergency bulkhead. While no longer emotionally isolated at episode’s end, now she’s physically isolated, both from her bride and from her Gundam.

Luck ends up on Sophie’s side, as she gets to meet the Witch from Mercury earlier than she expected. And while she acts like a swooning fangirl for Mercury’s abilities, it’s clear what she really wants is to fight against her in a Gundam duel. Whatever socio-political considerations are in play, Sophie just wants to play.

Here’s hoping Suletta can get to Aerial to oblige and humble this wild child from Earth. Maybe Guel can help out in some way from his position on Dawn of Fold’s ostensible command ship, or Miorine and the GUND-Arm team can pitch in, and Nana can redeem herself in some way.

Akiba Maid War – 07 – RocknPorkRolla

A week has passed since Nerula was gunned down in an alley, and Nagomi has run away from the Oinky Doink. The others, particularly Ranko, are worried about her, especially since Manami and the Maidalien war hawks aren’t finished. While Ranko is out distributing flyers, she spots a pink ninja who claims not to be Nagomi, but clearly is.

Since Nagomi insist’s she’s not Nagomi, Ranko tells this “mystery ninja” the situation: she and the Oinky Doink maids are worried about her. But if Nagomi fled out of fear to the oddly safer ninja café business, it wasn’t fear of being hurt or killed. It was fear of standing by and doing nothing while another friends of her dies.

This is a typical action movie protagonist pattern: after a great defeat, the hero withdraws, suffering a crisis of purpose. But outside forces, like Nerula’s grieving fans, conspire to bring her back to where she needs to be: at Oinky Doink, as the new kind of Akiba maid Nerula knew she could be.

But how? The ramen guy gives Nagomi the other piece of the picture to bring her around. It’s something he’s learned being in the ramen business with the reputation as someone whose ramen never changes: staying the same actually requires change. So Nagomi returns to the dojo and considers what that means.

That night, Manami and over two dozen of her henchmaids advance on Oinky Doink, outnumbering them over two-to-one. I knew Ranko and Zoya were worth ten of the average maid in fighting ability, but that’s still a lot of maids and a lot of bullets. The pig maids make use of homefield advantage and the element of surprise as much as they can, diverting and splitting up Manami’s maids.

This is the first time we see Shiipon and Yumechi in sustained action (their attack on the Sheep happening off-camera) but they handle themselves well. Even so, eventually the Maidaliens surround the Pigs, and Manami’s machine gun looks like a decisive advantage.

Ranko prepares to make a desperate charge to take Manami out or die trying (as far as she’s concerned protecting the café is worth it) but suddenly the elevator opens and a cloud of smoke gets off. Dozens of smoke bombs explode and disorient both sides. And through the smoke, Nagomin appears, prepared for battle.

With her almost preposterously hastily-acquired ninja skills, within seconds she’s disarmed Manami and claimed the machine gun for their side. Manami switches to her trademark bat, but once she’s in the pigsty, the maids of Oinky Doink and their ninja maid savoir are ready for her.

True to who she is, through the ensuing chaos, many bullets fly, but none of them from a gun held by Nagomi. Instead she uses the tools of the ninja trade, like kunai and nets, which buy her co-workers time to go on the offensive.

When the dust clears it’s just a wounded Manami and her lieutenant Miyabi, surrounded by the bodies of their fallen comrades. Miyabi gets Manami to retreat before they too are killed, but after Miyabi dresses Manami’s leg, Manami dismisses her and she departs in shame.

Nagomi shows up with Ranko as backup, and despite her sorry state Manami is still ready to throw down. But Nagomi isn’t there to fight. Nor is she there as a ninja. She’s a maid, and she reminds Manami what maids are truly all about: not dying in glorious battle, but serving their masters with moe moe kyun.

When Manami rises to shut the young whippersnapper up, Nagomi again uses her new ninja skills to lay the smackdown on Manami. Again, Nagomi demands that Manami feel the moe moe kyun, and she finally relents, deciding that pig hunting time is over.

Ranko lets Manami withdraw, and welcomes Nagomi back into the pigsty. But Manami gets a rude awakening back at Maidalien HQ. Not only did the boss Ugaki refuse to commit any more forces to this silly war, but she got all the Maidalien brass to agree to a merger with Creatureland.

Manami could not change like Nagomi did, and ends up gunned down by her former allies who are sick of her bloodlust. They want to make money, and they’ll make more if she’s dead than running around shooting people. So she meets her end in a swirling puddle of her own blood. Unfortunately for Oinky Doink, their next foe looks to be their own Creatureland masters.

This was a great step forward for Nagomi, but it wasn’t perfect. I kinda wish Manami had stuck around a bit, as small a chance as redemption for someone her would have been. Also, the animation of the raid, aside from some fun moments, was also surprisingly underwhelming, considering what I know the show is capable of from the premiere and the MMA episode.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akiba Maid War – 06 – The Batmaid

Rather than a stinger that shows some kind of absurd situation our Oinky-Doink maids find themselves in, we get some narration about the delicate balance struck between the Creatureland and Maidalien groups. Ranko’s slaughter of Wuv-Wuv Moonbeam upset that balance.

When Crimson Supernova returns from seven years of prison to Maidalien’s HQ, she smells weakness and smashes it with her red bat. Whoever wiped out Wuv-Wuv will also taste that bat, which is why it’s ironic that she hits it off with Ranko at the ramen spot they both love.

Because Wuv-Wuv also wiped out Maid Sheep (never mind the sheep started it), Creatureland’s brass instructs Tenchou to take on Maidalien … all by themselves. It’s clearly meant to be a mission that will result in Oinky-Doink’s destruction, but they’ll also be destroyed if they refuse.

The increased tensions ripple through Akiba’s streets, and even Nagomi and Nerula are on edge; the distance between them symbolizing their allegiances to the opposing sides of the coming war. But when Tenchou lays out the situation, Nagomi refuses to fight Nerula.

Tenchou suggests that Nagomi and Nerula take an Oath of Sisterhood that will bind them together. For a moment I was worried Nerula would reject Nagomi’s outstretched hand, either out of loyalty to her group or fear of reprisal, but she turns out to be true blue, and before the ramen guy and Tenchou, they take their oath and exchange name cards.

When Tenchou tries to persuade Nagomi into spying on Maidalien through Nerula, Nagomi is truly disgusted … but Nerula takes the initiative, warning her new sister that her group is coming for Oinky-Doink, and even tipping off the cops to her violent new “acting” boss Manami’s plan.

Nagomi is terribly worried when Nerula goes to ground, but thanks to the ramen guy she and Ranko manage to find her hiding in an alley, not far from where her fellow Maidalien maids are hunting for her. Nerula is happy to see her sister “one last time”, a phrase Nagomi doesn’t like one bit.

But like Ranko (and unlike Nagomi), Nerula is clear-eyed about what it means to be a maid in Akiba. She betrayed her group, and is ready for the consequences when Manami and her right-hand maid show up to deal them out.

Only if Nerula is going to go down, she’s going to go down trying to take Manami with her. Manami is nothing but an agent of chaos who wants to flood Akiba’s streets with blood (never mind that Ranko kiiinda already did this in the first episode, thus creating Manami’s motivation for going after Oinky-Doink).

Nerula doesn’t let Nagomi interfere as she lunges at Manami with a dagger, hitting nothing but air. When Manami beats her down with her bat, she gets back up, which is when Manami pulls a gun and puts several bullets in Nerula’s midsection.

Ranko pulls her sidearm and reminds the Maidaliens of the code, and Manami and her colleague depart before the coppers come. But the die is cast and the war has begun, even if the first casualty is not from Creatureland. None of that matters to Nagomi in the moment; she’s just trying to stop Nerula’s bleeding.

Nagomi is heartbroken and devastated when Nerula raises her bloodied hand to her sister’s cheek before breathing her last. Ranko warned that oaths of sisterhood don’t always work out, but if there’s any consolation to Nerula’s death, it’s that she died never having to fight her sister.

AMW is no stranger to goofy, absurd, over-the-top climaxes to its episodes, but this is the first one that’s played absolutely straight for drama, and it succeeds. Could this tragedy be what finally motivates Nagomi to take up arms to prevent anyone else she cares about from being taken?

Or will Nagomi take Nerula’s last words to heart, resolving to stay the maid she is: a maid of peace and non-violence? Whatever path she takes, the goofy fun times are done.

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.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

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.

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