Kageki Shoujo!! – 10 – Give the People What They Want

Due to various circumstances, a member of one of the four troupe relay race teams cannot run, so the Superiors assign a member of the 100th class as a sub. That class member is Watanabe Sarasa, who at first glance is a ringer due to her impressive height and gait. But as large an honor as the assignment is, Sarasa suddenly becomes a magnet for resentment and envy,

This comes most strongly from Hijiri, from whose 99th class Sarasa leapfrogged over with her ridiculously long legs. Hijiri not only tells Sarasa she’s only special for her height, then insists she “become nothingness itself” to allow the top stars to shine.

Ai, like everyone else, is surprised by how much Hijiri’s ill advice trips up Sarasa, who is downright nervous the night before the festival. Ai tells Sarasa her own lack of nerves in JPX was due to being the center of attention (and particularly male attention) from a young age, and basically developing an A.T. Field to deflect it.

But Ai, already a veteran stage performer, tells Sarasa that what Hijiri proposed isn’t the best method. You can’t be up there pretending to pay attention to the audience, just as you can’t be nothingness itself. Instead, one must always be conscious of what the audience wants, and then find a way to give it to them. That’s what makes top stars. That’s what makes legends.

The day of the festival at Hakusen Grand Hall, the students participate in the opening ceremony, but Hijiri’s shit-stirring campaign has twisted Sarasa up so bad she mimes playing her recorder. Her designated senpai Risa, whom we’ve seen far too little of in recent weeks, knows exactly what that bitch Hijiri is doing and doesn’t like it one bit.

Taking Sarasa aside, Risa spares no measure of cage-rattling, and tells Sarasa to get out of her head and remember the fact that the Superiors picked her. If she can’t understand why, that’s fine, but she at least has to accept that they did it because she was someone worth believing in. Giving up without putting herself out there and doing her absolute best will only make her naysayers angrier…and in any case, fuck the naysayers!

Risa’s own strong big sis pep talk gets an unexpected boost from Winter Top Star Satomi Sei, who gives Sarara a wall slam. Having overheard that Sarasa is most nervous about “being herself”, she invites her to imagine she’s playing the role of herself instead. Sei also delivers a bouquet of roses to the kabuki actor and senpai to Akiya we can be reasonably certain is Sarasa’s biological father.

While the pep talk by Risa and Sei works, Sarasa still overthinks things by getting all caught up in whether playing the role of herself and being herself is different or better. Here Ai comes to the rescue with more sage advice, following up on what she said the night before: be the person you want the audience to think you are: your ideal self.

Hilariously, for Sarasa “ideal” means an E-cup bust so she can properly fit into an Eva-style plug suit (between this and the A.T. Field, KS had some Eva nostalgia this week!). Ai is mortified, but whatever gives Sarasa the confidence to perform—and releases her from Hijiri’s psychological black magic—is just fine!

Unfortunately, in the actual relay race in which Sarasa and Sei are in the same leg, Sei’s teammate loses her grip on the baton and sends it flying. While leaping out to catch it, Sei collides with Sarasa and they both end up on the ground. Suddenly it seems like even if the Superiors didn’t make a mistake by putting a rangy first year on a relay team, the end effect was a fiasco.

Only…that doesn’t happen. In the few seconds she’s on the ground, Sarasa considers the best action to take: get up, run, and win it for her Summer team, or lend a helping hand to Sei. In the end, she gauges what the audience at Hakusen Grand Hall wants, then gives it to them, by staying laid out flat on the floor and letting Winter’s Top Star give her a helping hand up.

The choice proves to be the correct one, as the crowd goes wild watching Sei and Sarasa run their leg while holding hands, and their anchors also finishing the race together. Summer and Winter may have lost the festival, but they won the crowd. That’s the kind of instincts Sarasa naturally possesses; Ai just needed to give her a little push.

While I wish we could have seen a cutaway to Hijiri stewing over Sarasa’s win, it seems her efforts were successfully countered by Risa, Sei, and Ai. I still worry about how Sarasa’s guilelessness will hold up against someone even more obnoxiously evil than Hijiri (if such a human exists), but for now, as long as she has that safety net of people who genuinely love and care for her, Sarasa will be fine. No one needs to fight their fight alone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 22 – What Now?

Last week felt like a finale, but I’ve suspected for a while now we’re in for second season of Shield Hero down the road. With that in mind, it hardly comes as a surprise that this week’s episode slows things down substantially—a calm after the storm, if you will—with only three more episodes remaining this season.

Naofumi is summoned right back to Melromarc by the queen, who holds a party honoring their service as a front for a conference meant to ensure the four heroes reconcile and start working together. Raphtalia and Filo finally get the class upgrades they’ve so desperately needed (though they don’t get to choose their class, in part due to Filo’s cowlick). We also learn Mirelia is as fanatical about Fitoria as her daughter.

It doesn’t take long for bad actors to slip right back into bad habits, whether it’s a drunk knight spouting anti-demi vitriol and starting brawl in the banquet hall, to Malt–er, Bitch attempting to poison a pie meant for Naofumi’s party. It escapes me why she wasn’t simply banished from the palace.

Things don’t go any better in the closed-door session of the Four Heroes, with Mirelia mediating. Even though his name has been cleared, Motoyasu is still loyal enough to Bitch to declare Melty is lying about the poisoned pie, even though Bitch still has her slave crest and owned up to the crime.

That’s just a small taste of the inflexibility Naofumi faces. As Raph fights the drunken knight, and others start fighting each other, the other heroes only reluctantly spit out a bit of what they’ve learned about leveling up. The three heroes then turn on one another when they have opposing views about what’s most important when upgrading weapons, or the specific contents of their respective HUDs.

The bickering gets so bad Naofumi puts up his hands and leaves the room with no progress made and only a modium of intelligence learned. He can now, at least, tell Fitoria that he made an honest attempt to reconcile with them, and it went nowhere. There may just be too much bad history for them to cooperate except under the most dire circumstances, like the Pope’s attempted coup…or the next Wave.

What little insight Naofumi does gain he puts to immediate use, learning that he has to “believe in” the other heroes’ claims of a weapon-copying functionality in the for it to actually appear on his HUD. The other bit of news the Queen had for them is that the Cal Mira Archipelago has been “activated,” meaning all XP earned there is boosted for a limited time.

It’s a location someone as underleveled as Naofumi can’t pass up, even if it means crossing paths with the other heroes, so after bidding farewell to the Queen and Melty (for the second time in as many episodes), he tries out his new weapon-copying skill at Elhart’s shop (much to Elhart’s dismay) and the party heads out to the harbor where a ship will them to Cal Mira.

By request of Raphtalia, they make a detour to her home village, whose scant survivors have set up a cemetery on a seaside cliff. She pays respects to her departed friend Rifana and folks. Naofumi’s earlier offhand words about leaving her and Filo one day have also stuck with her, and she asks Naofumi straight-up not to leave her, as she doesn’t know what she’d do if he wasn’t in her world.

Naofumi promises, but he may not be able to control when his summoning is reversed, be it when the Waves are defeated or not. For now, he resolves to stay in this world as long as he is able, until Raphtalia and Filo find happiness—and not just the happiness of being beside him. In both cases, they have potentially happy futures without Naofumi: Raph in her village, with all the other survivors tracked down; Filo as the new Queen of her kind.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves: it’s time for some serous leveling up. As is typical, Naofumi is given the short end of the stick when his private cabin is stolen by the other heroes and their parties, who arrived before him. But as chance would have it Naofumi and his party end up in the same room as the tough-looking but friendly male and female adventurers they met at Raph’s village.

Could these two potentially end up a part of Naofumi’s party, or are they merely two of the hundreds of rivals for that sweet Cal Mira bonus XP?

Hanebado! – 09 – Turnabout is Fair Play

Ayano and Nagisa’s preparations for their finals match are interrupted by the inauspiciously conspicuous return of Connie Christensen, who wants a rematch with Ayano. Ayano, who as we know is not the same Ayano Connie embarrassed the last time they crossed, stays cordial, but her first words to Connie—that her panties are showing—demonstrate how unseriously Ayano is taking her.

Ayano’s attention turns to her broken Wei-Wei mascot on her bag, and Shiwahime invites her to a kind of Wei-Wei theme park with Connie (Erena also tags along). The Wei-Wei-ness is like catnip to Ayano, who switches off Badminton Mode and has a lot of fun for once, to the relief of Erena. Meanwhile, Shiwahime inadvertently sabotages Connie’s olive branch to Ayano in the form of a Wei-Wei keychain.

It turns out Connie didn’t return for a rematch at all; she came to express her desire to be a family with Ayano and her mother Uchika. When Connie finally gets the words out, Ayano completely brushes them off, and affably leads Connie to a badminton court, where her first devastating shot sends a clear message that it won’t be a friendly match.

We see more of the perennially lonely Connie’s past when Uchika takes her under her wing and essentially adopts her, while all the while Connie’s knowledge of the existence of a “big sister” who is Uchika’s biological daughter looms over her as a kind of challenge to clear. She wants the acknowledgement of both Uchika—who never once told Connie she was better than Ayano—and Ayano herself.

She doesn’t get it, and I’d argue she doesn’t really deserve it after how she entered Ayano’s life. Sure, Connie thought Ayano was playing mind games with her when they first met, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ayano sought a friendship in good faith, unaware of Connie’s identity.

That being said, Ayano lays the contempt on a little thick, as she essentially transforms into a Badminton Youkai, all crazy eyes and twisted smirks, in utterly rejecting Connie on the grounds she’s resolved to abandon her mom the way she abandoned her.

While Ayano refuses to forgive and forget or turn the other cheek, a dejected Connie returns home with Shiwahime to find the rest of her team has done all three, giving her emotional support when she’s never felt lower. Sorry, Hanebado, but this whole “actually Connie is the victim now, let’s all feel bad for her” isn’t quite working for me.

Who has two thumbs and doesn’t care about Yu’s attempts to get one of the male players to notice her? [holds up two thumbs] This guy. Also, I’m not confident Nagisa practicing until her knees give out is the best strategy for having a good match against Ayano. If Ayano doesn’t clean her clock I’ll be very surprised.

What could turn the tables slightly in Nagisa’s favor is the fact that Ayano returns home to find her mother, big stupid hair bow and all, waiting there to greet her like nothing’s happened. However unpleasant a character Connie may be, she’s no match for the awfulness that is Hanesaki Uchika, Ten-Time Worst Mother of the Year.

Hanebado! – 08 – Her Own Kind of Badminton

Ishizawa Nozomi, who was chosen over Nagisa for an elite school spot by her coach, is really only interested in winning and thus validating the trust her coach placed in her. Ayano, who has gradually abandoned all pretense of sportsmanship or empathy and has now become, essentially, a badminton murderbot, is also only interested in winning.

Both dispatch their opponents with ease and look down upon them as wasting their time. Yet I couldn’t help but feel like this episode was merely buildup for, even filler before the more substantial match involving Ayano. To be frank, I just don’t really care about Nozomi’s situation, while we’ve already dealt with Nagisa’s issues.

Ayano is on the shelf for the remainder of this episode; another spectator in the Nagisa-Nozomi showdown, and boy does she lay on the aloof bitchiness thick. I was hoping someone—say Elena—would kick her in the bum (either physically or verbally) but Ayano isn’t interested in discussing her conduct unbecoming.

As long as she wins, she doesn’t want to hear from anyone about anything…but is more than willing to giver her own running negative commentary about Nagisa’s chances against Nozomi, which she believes to be slim. Nozomi’s coach believes a strategy of making Nagisa run and change direction will blow out her knees.

And so in this match, we have a coach who is not only a constant verbal presence during play (which is hella annoying) but so obsessed with analytics and oppo research that he sees Nozomi as little more than an avatar or tool with which to execute his badminton.

The problem is, Nozomi is still a child, and trying to find out who she is, not just as a player but as a person. The coach’s constant browbeating is constantly undermining that growth, and the effects are just as serious as the fatigue on Nagisa’s knees.

After losing the first set, Nozomi stands up to her coach for the first time and basically tells him to butt out; she’s going to try things her way. To his credit, the coach is accepting of her choice and almost seems proud to be cast aside in this way, realizing he pushed her too far. So at least he’s not a complete two-dimensional jerk.

Nozomi proceeds to win the second set, but loses the third, giving Nagisa the victory, a spot in the Nationals and in the final match versus Ayano. But more importantly, she played the rest of that match for herself, not her coach, and despite losing, had a ton of fun, reminding her why she plays in the first place.

As for Ayano, she concedes she was wrong and that Nagisa is better than she thought…but likely doesn’t see Nagisa as even the slightest threat in the finals. We’ll see if her insufferable arrogance backfires next week, or if her precipitous abandonment of humanity will continue to proceed apace.

Considering both Connie and her mother could be in attendance, the timing for some kind of downfall for Ayano couldn’t possibly be worse!