Sansha Sanyou – 02

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Nicknames, olive branches, and sisters who are opposites – San-San’s second episode covers a lot, but at a gentle yet lively pace. We meet Serina, Hayama’s self-appointed rival, whom Hayama always makes a fool of with the sweetest demeanor possible.

Their verbal sparring is quite good, but so is the truce they reach when Hayama, who beneath the blackness within has a kind heart, offers a kitten to replace Serina’s last cat who died.

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After Yamagi insists Hayama and Futaba refer to his master as “Yoko-sama”, the nickname sticks, and it’s time for Hayama. When Futaba and Yoko learn her first name is Teru, I like how Futaba has a little fun with it before agreeing with Yoko it’s actually a nice name (and it is!).

The one who yells “Teru” in the hall is Teru’s own big sister Kou, who is part-angel, part-airhead, who likes putting strange combinations of health food ingredients into candy.

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The girls end up running into each other in the shopping district, where Yoko shows how serious she is about squeezing every penny (to their embarrassment) and Teru figures out that her (healthy, lucky) sister got on the health food kick in order to ensure her little sister—always sickly and unlucky as a small child—gets proper nourishment.

That doesn’t make her strange onigiri any easier to choke down, but Teru and Yoko choke it down nonetheless. For Yoko, wasting food is an insult and a sin; for Teru, she wants her sister to know she appreciates her care. San-San, like Shounen Maid, is pleasant low-stakes slice-of-life, but edges it out in cast chemistry and comedic pacing.

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GATE – 20

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I often groan at GATE episodes that mostly or wholly omit the core gang of Itami & Co., but that’s a bit unfair, knowing that GATE is about more than just one man or one group’s adventures, but about an entire sprawling world of multiple races, political affiliations, and ideologies.

This week may have felt more like a Sherry & Casel spin-off than the GATE I typically like, but it was nonetheless a strong and surprisingly moving episode that gave the current political troubles and Japan’s involvement (or lack of same) a smaller, human scale.

Under Tyuule’s manipulation, Prince Zolzal has passed extraordinary laws and raised a paramilitary force called “Oprichnina” to oppress all pro-peace actors in the Empire. Among those is Senator Casel, who hoped to find safety with Sherry’s family, but are soon set upon by Orpichnina “Cleaners” led by the sniveling Gimlet.

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Sherry leads Casel out of the house, and her parents proceed to burn it down, presumably dying in the process but covering the escape of both their family’s and country’s futures. Of course, Tyuule is on the scene and aware of Sherry and Casel’s movements, and uses her porcine assistant to get the two to “dance for her.” Not sure why Tyuule is micromanaging things to this extent, but I do know her evil smirking is getting old.

Sherry, despite being only twelve years old, doesn’t show her fear as she finds herself out in the world with people after her and an adult senator to protect. She haggles with a villager for food and secures a room at the inn, but the only way they’ll both be safe is if they can reach and gain asylum at the Jade Palace, a territory that is technically Japanese soil by treaty.

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They get to the boundary of the de facto embassy easily enough, but are met by Princess Pina’s knights, who relay the Japanese diplomats are unwilling to harbor political dissidents at this time, thanks to a hard line from the ministry back home that doesn’t want to look weak or further embolden Zolzal by harboring doves. Even Sugawara, whom Sherry is in love with and truly believes she’ll marry someday, won’t let his personal feelings interfere with his diplomatic duties.

The Japanese refusal to accept Casel means as soon as Gimlet arrives with his Cleaners, they arrest the senator and prepare to take Sherry into custody too. It’s hard to watch her come so far, with so much childish faith in her shining Japanese hero, only to be turned away right before the finish line, and into the jaws of those who have already destroyed her family and likely have nothing good planned for her.

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At the same time, while I despised Sugawara as much as he probably despised himself when he refused to act, I also appreciated his duty to his country. People can’t just disobey orders all the time. I thought this would all come to a heartbreaking end, with Gimlet’s grubby mitts all over an increasingly pathetic Sherry screaming for Sugawara’s help.

Turns out, Sugawara couldn’t abandon Sherry to a horrible fate. He orders her brought over to the Japanese side. This obviously led to the desirable outcome of Sherry being safe (in exchange for Sugawara promising to marry her after all when she comes of age), but GATE doesn’t pretend such an action wouldn’t have messy consequences.

There are knots and kinks in this particular fairy tale: Just as Sherry’s parents gave up their lives to get her out, Sugawara may have sacrificed his career and complicated Japan’s position to a potentially disastrous extent to save her. He did something he didn’t have the authority to do. Zolzal and Tyuule wanted nothing more than to stir the shit with Japan, and Sugawara’s heroism did just that.

The Vice Minister, who previously respected his decision as a diplomat while loathing him as a man, is forced to reverse both positions: condemn his actions as a diplomat, but laud him for being a decent man who couldn’t let the screams of a child go unheard.

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GATE – 19

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With Mort out of the picture (he doesn’t seem to be dead, but he’s in no condition to rule), Zolzal takes over and wastes no time stoking anti-peace sentiment among both the armies and masses. Tyuule, who has had proper clothes for a while now (compared to a burlap shift anyway) is overjoyed by this development, because she’s certain Zolzal’s warmongering will lead to his downfall.

Using Zolzal as her pawn, Tyuule has bascially stolen a march on both Pina’s peace negotiations will now only serve as stalling as Zolzal approves unethical tactics in order to weaken the JSDF and its position in the special region. He and his advisors may be fools, but they at least realize a head-on fight won’t work.

Pina wants to try to slow Zolzal’s march to war, but her other brother Diabo flees the capital to round up a force of foreign countries to deal with Zolzal the only way he thinks they can: with the sword. And while I like Pina and appreciate her position as the only sensible member of the royal family, that doesn’t mean I find her character all that compelling.

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That’s why I was glad for the cut back to Rondel, where characters I frankly am far more invested in about are engaged in activities very much unrelated to the interminable palace intrigue of the capital: Lelei’s preparations to become a master. Her big sister Arpeggio comes more into focus as someone who’s always been in her genius little sister’s shadow.

There’s also an unexpected reunion between Rory and Mimoza, the two of whom last met 50 years ago. Rory’s advanced age and natural gregariousness owing to her demigod status, you never know who she’ll bump into next, and I like how Mimoza took her “homework” seriously, devoting years to studying the history and pre-history of the world to determine why there are so many races.

Her conclusions are fascinating: the Gate isn’t just something that connects to the Ginza; it’s a cyclical portal that has dormant periods like a volcano, and each time throughout the centuries, it has opened to a different realm. Beings from those realms would come through, fight, breed, and become a part of society in the world. Even more intriguing? Humans were almost certainly the newest race to come through.

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Other revelations include Arpeggio’s side-job copying books (underlining her pathos relative to her wondersis) and Lelei’s sneaky little pronouncement that Itami is not, in fact, single, since she and he spent three nights in the same room together. She also firmly contends Tuka’s nights didnt’ count because she was insane at the time and thought Itami was her dad. I’m inclined to agree.

But Arpeggio’s inability to snag Itami as a husband because Lelei got to him first is the last straw, and she’s forced to challenge her sister to a magic duel by way of inverted soup bowl (thankfully, not scalding). While Itami is appropriately lost and of the belief the sisters are taking things too far, everyone else carries on as if this was a regular occurrence … because his is the thirteenth such battle between them.

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Arpeggio was a whiny sad-sack for so much of the episode prior to the duel, it was good to see her in action, holding her own against an aggressive Lelei who unveils heretofore unseen abilities like witch-like flight. I also appreciated that the sisters’ distinctive styles match their personalities: Arpeggio grounded and practical, Lelei with her head in the clouds, dreaming big.

Despite its non-lethal nature, the duel is fast and loud and exciting. The girls eventually essentially tie when both their magical defenses are broken (though Arpy’s broke fist), but that’ when things almost do turn lethal – when a cloaked assassin very nearly puts a crossbow bolt between a defenseless Lelei’s eyes.

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His attempt is thwarted by Grey, who has just arrived with Hamilton to protect Lelei and escort her back to the capital, where she’s become an Imperial hero due to her actions in the fire dragon battle. I say her and only her because she’s the only human; as for being an Imperial citizen, Lelei takes exception to that classification, as she still considers herself a member of the Rurudo clan first and foremost.

Regardless, Zolzal no doubt wants to make her another tool in his upcoming war with the Greens. Tyuule is now trusted to meet with senators on his behalf to present them with new laws that will allow him to arrest and convict whomever he chooses – no doubt laws he deems necessary in times of war. As for Itami, he probably has the right idea: simply run for now, while staying appraised of the increasingly volatile political situation.

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Hanayamata – 04

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Hannah has Zankyou no Terror (all nines thru three) and Preston has Akame ga Kill (all eights thru four), but it looks like Hanayamata is my rock—the show that has consistently performed a a high level in the first third of its run. That’s especially surprising considering the group we see dancing in the OP is still barely three-fifths complete as of this week’s episode.

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This week the focus shifts to Nishimikado Tami, somebody who is both Naru’s “big-sis” figure and the perfect princess from her fantasy tales, made flesh. Not surprisingly, Tami doesn’t have quite that high an opinion of herself, as she has always worked tirelessly to earn her rich, busy father’s praise and esteem, but not always gotten it.

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All that work includes delving into fields like tea, flower arranging, and piano, all of which are skills a proper Japanese lady supposedly needs to excel in, but in which she has less personal interest than say, ballet, which she had to quit to make time for the other things. Her friend (and the student council president) Machi is worried Tami is still stuck in “little girl” mode, placing far too much emphasis on pleasing Daddy, while neglecting her own passions and goals.

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Machi doesn’t dabble in any of the extracurriculars Tami does, as she’s putting much of her focus into attaining academic rather than cultural excellence. Then again, Machi doesn’t come from an old, rich, powerful family. Tami was raised to believe the Nishimikado name is something that must be lived up to. But at the end of the day, a life-sized doll in a kimono could accomplish the same task; that of being ignored when her father comes home.

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On the other hand, Naru declares “It has to be you,” meaning a doll won’t cut it. It may, but the complex is strong with Tami, and only the slightest hint of discouragement from her father is enough for her to reject Hana’s invitation to join the yosakoi club. It’s a reflex at this point in her life, but one that is almost immediately challenged by a lasting gloom and stinging in the chest that isn’t relieved until she crosses paths with Naru again.

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Having been given the little push she needed to move forward and try something new by Hana, it falls on Naru to do the pushing here, after recognizing the pain she’s in. Tami, in turn, comes around to the idea that she can’t go on deferring her happiness for daddy’s benefit. When she declares her intention to take up yosakoi, I’m certain her dad won’t be pleased, but that’s not her damn problem.

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Stray Observations:

  • Hana believes it’s the duty of every self-respecting Japanese student to eat their lunch on the school roof. I agree.
  • Tami shows off her ninja skillz as she sneaks up on Naru and Hana not once but twice.
  • She’s also still quite good at ballet, despite being out of practice.
  • Eating out and staying out late: mortal sins to Tamihime.
  • I kinda like the fact that I still have no frikkin’ clue how Machi is going to be brought into the fold.
  • MAL’s score of Hanayamata (7.19 as of this writing) feels really low to me. Not sure what they don’t like about it. (Too moe? What does moe even mean?)

Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin – 07

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Like NGNL’s last outing, this episode of Nanana benefited from a changing of gears; a brief pause, if you will, to take stock of where we’ve come. There’s no new treasure hunt this week. Instead, it’s an episode about amends; namely, amends Juugo makes towards two of the three most important women in his life (Things are perfectly chipper between him and Tensai).

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First on his list is Nanana. Last week her fury was awesome to behold, but also largely unexplained. Turns out Juugo sold most of her video games, presumably in order to afford the trip to the hot spring. The premium regional pudding he acquires proves sufficient in quelling her rage and gaining her forgiveness, along with the promise to buy her new games.

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The other woman won’t be so easily appeased by confections and toys. When Fugi Yukihime, his beloved martial arts instructor and big-sister figure, tried to steal the treasure he’d already acquired, she broke an unspoken rule of the underground. Juugo saw that as a sign she truly had turned her back on him, which depressed him to no end. I’ll admit, how they left things left a sour taste in my mouth too.

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Cheered on by Nanana (who agrees to let him cry into her chest if he fails, which he assures her he won’t), Juugo meets with Yukihime in the night and promptly challenges her to a duel; one he probably knows he can’t possibly win, and doesn’t. But then he activates Nanana’s treasure, surrounding Yukihime in golden chains, and he suddenly has the power to to anything he wants to her.

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If he follows through on his threats, Yukihime will gain license to truly hate him…but she doesn’t want to—as evidenced by her sudden tears—nor does Juugo want her to. He releases her and tells her he wants them to be on the same side, even if he’s no longer with Matsuri. They both apologize to one another, and Yukihime agrees to keep liking him as much as she had (which is likely more than she lets on).

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It was great to see another episode that fills in the blanks of the last, as well as to see so many more sides of Fugi Yukihime, who is as cute as she is deadly. It was always clear the two had a past, but I didn’t realize the true depth of it until now, and both characters benefited greatly from the elaboration. And yes, that was Star Driver the gals were watching. They have excellent taste!

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