Spy x Family – 21 – Not My Mama

WISE agent Fiona Frost, AKA Nightfall (voiced by Sakura Ayane in her lower meter) could just as easily be named Snowfall, seeing as she’s outwardly as chilly as Yor is warm. When Handler tells her she’ll be working on a joint mission with Twilight, Fiona jumps at the chance.

She considers it an opportunity to speed up and improve Operation Strix by getting rid of his fake wife, a position she would have occupied had she not been busy on another mission when Strix began. Fiona is met at the door by guileless Yor, who apparently doesn’t feel any killing intent in Loid’s co-worker from the hospital, even as Fiona’s resting face is a piecing dagger stare

When she realizes that Yor considers being Anya’s mom to be fun, she changes her tack, ready to exploit Yor’s feelings of being a subpar wife, but Loid and Anya return home from walking Bond. No matter how good Fiona’s poker face is, Anya can read her mind, and she’s petrified to learn the extent of Fiona’s infatuation with her Papa. It’s way worse than Becky!

The contrast between the lovey-dovey Inner and frigid Outer Fionas makes for good laughs, as does the secret conversation-via-mouth-movements that she and Loid make while sounding like they’re exchanging mindless small talk. As Loid, Yor, and Anya interact, Fiona is constantly demanding that she and Yor switch in her head, and Anya can hear her.

Turns out Yor was paying attention to Fiona talking about Loid complaining at work, and even though Fiona didn’t get to actually specify anything, the mere mention of him complaining has Yor acrobatically leaping to the conclusion that Fiona is a potential replacement wife, no mind-reading necessary.

It’s when Anya semi-accidentally spills cocoa, and she hears Inner Fiona talking about how ruthlessly she’d whip Anya into an efficiently Stella-winning machine, that Anya runs tearfully to Yor’s side, asserting that she is the one, only, and best Mama she could have. This in turn spurs Yor to promising to Loid that she’ll do better, even though from his perspective she’s already been doing fine.

When she sees Loid’s fake smile, Fiona is heartened, as it means that at the end of the day this is all an act. And yet, at the same time, she can see some of the truth leaking through that fake smile, and the genuine peace and happiness Loid is experiencing with Yor and Anya is just too much, and Fiona takes her leave.

Loid chases her down with an umbrella, which she declines, while thanking the heavy rain for hiding her face full of heartbreak and anguish. Inside, she maintains that she’s the only wife worthy of her beloved senpai, while outside she negs Loid, telling him the new “softer” Twilight better not impede their joint mission.

Fiona is a stylish and welcome addition to the cast; someone who is actively trying to steal Loid while having no idea how to do so, someone with contrasting inner-outer personalities off which Anya can bounce, and a hint of genuine pathos for someone whose fated role by Loid’s side was usurped due to bad timing.

The final fifth of the episode is a little vignette in which Bond is suddenly jealous of her stuffed Mr. Penguin, and assaults it in the night. Loid eventually mends the doll (after Yor utterly failed) and notes that his “scars” are badges of honor for a veteran penguin spy.

A contrite bond offers peace peanuts to Anya, who forgives him, apologizes for saying she hated him, and enacts a peace treaty between him and Mr. Penguin. It’s slight and sweet—almost to the point of cloying—but does make for a nice parallel for the East-West conflict (would that it could be solved so easily) and reminds us that even precognitive flooffers can get jealous.

Spy x Family – 20 – TYDTWD

Anya’s next school assignment will be to go to a parent’s workplace to learn about their job and why they chose it. She asks Yor first, who imagines Anya shadowing her while she’s doing her real job assassinatin’, which is great both for some laughs and another excuse to watch Yor do her thing. Thankfully the blood in her imagining is pink, but both she and Anya deem it best for her to go to Loid’s workplace.

When I was sick but too young to stay home alone, my folks would alternate who took me to work. In both cases, their co-workers were delighted for a cute little kid to be there (their words not mine), and that’s no different for Anya at the hospital. The issue is that she takes careful notes of everything Loid is thinking rather than saying, and also learns about a secret passage she can’t resist exploring.

We finally meet the lady with the short white hair in the OP and ED; we don’t yet get her name but she’s a Westalis agent like Twilight. Anya ends up getting stuck in the ductwork directly over a meeting where doctors are talking about ghosts—and she makes a lot of ghost like sounds freeing herself. Finally, her hasty dumping of all the figures into the “sandbox”  reveals the limitations of the psychiatric tool, as Loid assumes she’s deeply troubled child.

The remaining quarter of the episode consists of Anya taking the idea of coded messages from her spy TV show and running with it. Since her own chicken scratch is illegible to everyone but her (her report—including many of Loid’s thoughts—was quite thorough!) she has Yor write them up, and she then distributes them to Becky, Second Son, everyone.

Even Frankie gets one, and wrongly assumes it’s a love letter handed to Anya by a beauty. When he cracks the code and waits on the bridge at the allotted time in his Sunday best with several dozen roses, Anya’s alarm goes off, but Bond shuts it off, letting Anya sleep right through the meeting time. That’s probably for the best, considering only Frankie showed up and had the wrong idea.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 19 – The Mysterious Spider Woman

Spy x Family reveals who was trying to crater the Damian brothers’ test scores: George Glooman, son of the CEO of Glooman Pharmaceuticals, who are on the cusp of being gobbled up by the Desmond Group. While Damian managed to escape his father’s frightening looks, George is the spitting image of his dad, with a turnip head and gloomy eyes.

When George learns Daybreak failed, he takes desperate measures, like trying to get a teacher to believe Damian was smoking and shoved him to stop him from reporting it. The teacher doesn’t believe Damian’s lackeys, but when Anya comes forward with the truth, Damian is shocked—and it confirms to Becky who Anya likes best.

With this last desperate attempt to get Damian expelled foiled, George instead plays for sympathy from the class, laying out his story in detail and noting that this is his last day at Eden College, so he only wants to experience some final small joys.

If nothing else, George is extremely good at emotionally manipulating people into pitying him, so he gets juice, a pricey caviar bowl, a class-wide singalong just for him, and armloads of gifts from his classmates urging him not to forget them and the bonds they shared at Class 3.

Naturally, it’s not really George’s last day. His fears about family bankruptcy and being sold into slavery in Westalis were grossly exaggerated. His dad assures him that everything’s fine; Damian’s dad’s company saved Glooman, it didn’t destroy it. George’s walk of shame the next morning is a wonderful bit of comeuppance for someone who squeezed the class for every drop of sympathy … all for a lie.

In the next segment we see just how peaceful and cozy Anya’s room is (especially with Bond curled up in the middle of it) and how hard it must be to get up and start her day. Yor has some free time before work, but when she notices Anya forgot her gym clothes, she panics. Loid did say she’ll be punished by the school if she keeps being late to school and breaking rules. Yor imagines an expelled Anya turning into a Bad Girl and resolves to get the clothes to Anya without detection.

Yor hesitates over whether taking the bus or trolley will get her there faster, but then an old lady accidentally drops a potted plant off her seventh-floor window, and a switch goes off in Yor: neither. After using her superhuman speed and agility to catch the plant and kick it back up to it’s owner, she goes on a parkour tear through the alleys and rooftops.

It’s truly inspiring whenever we see Yor do cool shit, especially when it doesn’t involve murdering people! This is Yor at her best, as when she went into Mama Bear Mode to protect Anya in the terrorist arc. She uses her considerable skill to get to Eden her way—and other than confirming a school legend of a “spider woman”, she largely stays out of sight.

Yet like George when he exchanged heartfelt goodbyes with his classmates, Yor has the wrong idea. Anya didn’t forget her gym clothes, she didn’t take them because she doesn’t have gym class today. Yor breaks out the “SHOCK!” face Anya usually makes (like found daughter, like found mother), and leaves the school in a gloomy mood, feeling like a failure of a mother again.

Loid, who was spying around the school all along and wondering why Yor was there, “coincidentally” bumps into her as she heads home, and learns her reason for being there was perfectly innocent, and she hasn’t discovered any of his secrets. But Loid also sees that Yor is feeling depressed. When he invites her to a choice spot for lunch together, the shot of her face brightening back up is alone worth a Stella.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 18 – No Leash is Power

Anya attends a school, so it’s not all arts and crafts. There are quiz and test scores, and even though Anya was confident she scored well, she ends up with supplemental lessons—and having to see her smug “friendly” face perfectly imitated by the high-scoring Damian. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Anya decides she’ll simply read Damian’s mind to attain a good score on the upcoming midterm exams—for which the highest scores get Stella and the failing ones get Bolts. But there’s a snag: Anya’s telepathy doesn’t work on the New Moon. To it’s credit, SxF doesn’t bother explaining why. What matters is that Anya will have to study for real.

Enter “Uncle” Yuri as a tutor. Yuri is immediately childishly envious of Loid’s “gremlin” of a spawn for getting to live with his dear sister, but when Yor give him her biggest smile, he resolves to tutor Anya gently but firmly. They study all day, and end up exhausted on the floor.

When Yuri asks Anya how she think she did on the grammar lessons and Anya asks what grammar is, his patience is exhausted and he leaves … but not before sampling some of Yor’s freshly-baked treats, which he chomps down on and then joy-vomits in the hall. When Loid comes home, he’s dismayed to learn that the whole time he was there Yuri tutored Anya in language arts, which are not even on the midterms.

This leads to the second segment of the episode, as he takes drastic measure to ensure Anya doesn’t get expelled due to failing grades. The high security North Tower of the school contains a vault where all the students’ exams are stored. Loid disguises as an instructor to infiltrate the vault and alter Anya’s scores.

However, someone had the same idea, and hired “Daybreak”, Twilight’s self-professed Number One Rival. His methods for infiltrating the tower and vault are about as thoughtful, subtle, and discreet as smashing cans of tomato soup with a sledgehammer at a funeral. And yet somehow he avoids the watching eye of guards and makes it inside without getting arrested.

Loid decides to help Daybreak get in so that his loud boorish actions will mask his own infiltration efforts. Once he opens the vault, Daybreak bonks him on the head and drags him in. Because Daybreak had his spy notes written on his hand, he knows he’s there to alter the Desmond brothers’ exams.

Once he’s done, Daybreak launches into a celebratory monologue, and when he prepares to leave an “autograph” among the scores, Loid can no longer pretend to be passed out and protests against Daybreak’s ridiculously un-spy-like behavior. To this, Daybreak simply asks Loid to tell everyone about how awesome he is.

Upon inspecting the exams, Loid sees that Daybreak doctored the Desmonds’ answers so they’d fail, an assumes one of their father’s business rivals hired the buffoon. He reverts the answers to what they were before moving on to Anya’s exam.

When she passes and ends up ranked 213th (compared to 46th for Becky and 11th for Damian), I assumed Loid only altered her scores a little so as no to rouse suspicion. But while it takes all four of her exam scores combined to exceed 100, the fact is she passed all four on her own; Loid didn’t have to alter anything. So no Stella, but no Bolts either. Meanwhile, Daybreak is fired for failing his mission. I wonder if he’ll cross Twilight’s path again …

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 17 – If You Have Love, You Can Fly (But Jets Work Too)

Anya’s initial attempt to impress Damian with news of her new dog failed, so she’s brought a new family portrait to “accidentally” drop when Damian is passing by, hoping he’ll see it and marvel at Bond’s grand floofiness.

Unfortunately it doesn’t go as planned, as Damian and his toadies ignore the photo. It flies off and is picked up by Becky, who is immediately smitten with the hot guy and asks Anya if he’s “seeing anyone”. A dismayed Anya responds “Papa is married to Mama!”

In a stroke of luck for Anya, she and Damian are paired off for and arts-and-crafts project: making an animal. Becky ends up making a model of Loid with a “battle suit” from her dad’s company, and when substitute teacher Mr. Henderson tells her the assignment was animals, she once again demonstrates her precociousness by stating “In the end, humans are animals too”, something our mustachioed paragon of elegance cannot dispute.

Anya doesn’t fair so well, as she’s as bad at arts and crafts as her Mama is (or at least was) at cooking. When she reads Damian’s mind to make a griffin, the heraldic beast of his family, she magnanimously offers to assist, but proves absolute rubbish, building legs with jet engines and uneven feathers. Damian is so pissed by her uselessness he makes her and another girl cry, inviting a scolding from Mr. Henderson, who exclaims “Not Elegant!”

Henderson understands Damian probably wants to impress his father, but he tells Damian there’s no need to rush; all he can do is what he can with the resources he has. The resulting “griffin”, with Anya’s interpretation of a griffin beside it, looks like a disaster, but it invokes patriotic fervor in one of the bigwig judges, and the pair end up winning first prize.

The griffin is proud-looking despite its sorry state, while what is interpreted as “the corpse of an innocent baby griffin” moved the judge to strong emotion. It’s a great bit of still art.

Unfortunately, Anya doen’t really make any progress in her friendship to Damian, nor does the prize include any Stella. But as big of a jerk as he often is to Anya, I couldn’t help but feel bad when he called home and had to settle with talking to the butler Jeeves, since his father is away in more ways than one, and generally disinterested in his second son.

The episode switches gears to do a brief profile of Sylvia Sherwood, AKA Handler, AKA Fullmetal Lady, so-called due to her flawless performance as a spymaster for Westalis. Varying cinematic shots of her walking down the street create a sense of paranoia, but her tail turns out to be a couple of easily-fooled guys who never considered she’d use the public pool locker rooms to change into a disguise and give them the slip.

We witness two separate meetings between Sylvia and Loid, with the episode underscoring that every meeting threatens both of their lives. So it’s amusing both that Loid makes sure not to tell the Fullmetal Lady that the tag on her dress is still on, and also that his “report” to her on Operation Strix involves Anya’s athletic progress.

The final post-credits skit, basically an omake, is a flashback to when Anya would cook dishes for Yuri to eat (all of which are pixelated and feature worryingly unnatural colors), and Yuri scarfs it down with a smile in between projectile vomiting. When he tells her she’ll make a great wife, she gets bashful and slaps him so hard he bounces off the floor and spins horizontally to the far end of the room.

This combination of being repeatedly poisoned and thrashed about due to his sister not knowing her strength is what makes Yuri the excellent operative he is today. He’s been toughened to such an extent that getting his by a truck is of absolutely no consequence. After all, Yor’s tougher than a truck.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 16 – The Taste of Family

This episode opens with a dead-serious face, as Yor can barely hide her assassin’s glare from her family when she arrives home late. She definitely can’t hide all the cuts on her hands, which at first I thought might be from a particularly unpleasant client. Anya sees the future through Bond: her mama crying. Alone in her room Yor laments that she could lose her family if this doesn’t succeed. So what’s ‘this’?

I really should have known from all the hand cuts that the mission had nothing to do with assassination, but secret cooking lessons from Camilla, who grudingly agrees to coach Yor when her husband Dominic blurts out at work that she’s a great cook. The bloody bag Yor was carrying was just crushed tomatoes. It’s a great heavy buildup that made you breathe a sigh of relief whenever you figure out everything will be fine.

Dominic invites Yuri to help be the taste tester, but also possibly to preserve his own life. The “smoking, oozing purple/black poison food made by the terrible chef” is an anime cliché that’s been around longer than Truck-kun, and Spy x Family leans into the disgusto-factor of her eldritch creations. It also wisely shows that Yuri’s usual way of eating his sister’s food—while vomiting part of it up—and not keeling over shows that she’s had a poor judge of taste all this time.

Yuri should be commended for basically building up a tolerance and even a love of his sister’s cooking (though part of it is the last thing he wants is for her to be unhappy, or contribute to it in any way). When Camilla suggests they think back to what kind of food the Briar siblings’ mom made, they remember a red southern stew with a fried egg. Yor starts again under Camilla’s close watch, and hey-presto, she’s able to make her first edible, tasty dish!

When Yor returns home in a much better mood, Loid and Anya are understandably worried about her handling the dinner duties. But she sticks to the recipe for her mom’s stew, and after a tentative taste, they discover it’s a really good, soothing flavor. Yor is so happy her family is acknowledging her cooking, she cries tears of joy, not sorrow, into her hands—the very future Bond foresaw.

The final gag is that the dessert she improvise does send her family to the floor. But with about a third of the runtime left, the episode doesn’t let Yor’s cooking epiphany overstay its welcome, but shifts to … Franky’s love life? Ugh…fine, I guess. Turns out Franky is as bad with women as he is good with intelligence gathering. He asks Loid to help him determine the best way to talk to Monica, the pretty woman at the cigar shop.

After Franky demonstrates stalker tendencies with the wealth of intel on Monica and scoffing at Loid’s elaborate conversational flow charts, Loid dresses as Monica, a bit that doesn’t really get any play. Similarly, we don’t get to see Franky being shot down, only the aftermath and Loid buying him a commiseratory drink. It’s a very lightweight segment, but after the excitement of the Mister Dog Trilogy I understand the need for a downshift.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 15 – A Dog Has Appeared

Keith is finally dealt with when Yor spots him in his car and then kicks said car so it crashes. She then calls the authorities to ask them to come fetch the terrorist. Between Anya saving the future and Yor bagging the baddie, Loid simply doesn’t know how good he has it!

That’s abundantly clear when he finds himself at an intersection with Yor, Anya, and Mr. Dog. Anya says she was worried about her Papa’s pooping situation, while Yor chased after her; plausible deniability is secure for both of them. As for Mr. Dog? Sylvia comes to retrieve him, but Anya decides that he is the dog for her, even threatening to drop out of school if they don’t let her have him. Seeing as how Operation Strix depends on Anya staying in school, both Loid and Sylvia grudgingly agree.

Thus Mr. Dog joins the Forger family, and we see the “good future” he saw take place. My heart soared at the sight of him safe and sound in the Forger home; it’s the least of what he deserves for saving and staying true to Anya. Unfortunately, despite the fact both she and Mr. Dog played a pivotal role in keeping the peace between East and West, she doesn’t earn any additional Stella, which is a terrible shame.

Even so, since Anya is well aware of her role in keeping said peace, she recommits to becoming friends with Damian, and she’s confident that having a dog can only strengthen her position. Indeed, Damian voices genuine interest in her new pet, only for her to blow it by not having a proper name for the pooch, simply referring to him as “Dog”.

That oversight is corrected after an ooting in a dog park. Another dog makes off with Anya’s favorite gloves, and he’s ornery when Anya tries to get them back. All it takes is an intense glare from Mr. Dog for the other dog to drop the gloves. Anya likens Mr. Dog to Bondman from her favorite cartoon, and notes that Mr. Dog has “gloves” in the form of his black paws. Festooning him with a bow tie collar, Anya declares that his name is Bond.

Even though Loid insisted that Anya study that night, when he and Yor find her and Bond sleeping together, he decides to let her insolence slide. Considering Anya and Bond saved the future, it’s the right move, even if Loid is unaware of their contribution. Bond is a most welcome member of the Forger family, and if Damian were to meet him, I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be eminently charmed by him. I mean, he’s so big and white and fluffy!

Takt Op. Destiny – 07 – Post-Cosette

Anna, Takt, and Destiny’s road trip takes through the South, passing larges swaths of recent D2 destruction. Once they reach a larger city (Charlotte, North Carolina, I believe) they find it full of refugees living in shanty towns in the park. Takt has also developed the annoying habit of tapping his finger constantly, rather than only most of the time. No wonder Anna puts him in a seperate hotel room!

With Anna about to snap, Destiny nearly snaps Takt’s neck, then insists he tell them what’s going on. Turns out he’s composing a song, but can’t get it on to the page. While he composes in his head night and day, his eye bags growing larger and darker, Destiny drives off some D2s on her own. WHen she mentions “very important plans”, he can’t help but follow her.

What he discovers is shocking: Destiny doing something other than simply fighting D2s. She buys groceries for a refugee and her baby son, and sweets for the displaced little ones. Just little things you woldn’t expect something that is supposedly just a weapon to do. Anna sidles up to Takt and tells him this is nothing new: Destiny hasn’t just improved as a Musicart, she’s evolving as a person.

Anna also tells Takt that the one who found a musical instrument for him—a melodica to aid with his composing—was Destiny. She even waited outside his hotel room, looking nervous. It’s enough to make Anna wonder out loud…what if their Cosette is still in there somewhere, gradually adding humanity to the anti-D2-weapon that is Destiny?

The show’s “rules” may have already established that the Musicart replaces the person who used to own the body…but who’s to say Cosette/Destiny aren’t different? Grand Maestro Sagan himself is so certain of Takt and Destiny’s uniqueness and potential that he orders Schindler to leave them alone and let them do their thing.

In what initially looked like (owing in part to the dramatic lighting) what was going to be a groundbreaking conversation between Destiny and Takt is suddenly cut short, if only because Destiny asks too many sensitive questions too quickly and directly, and the memories that dredges up in Takt makes him shut down.

Even so, it wasn’t a matter of Takt not wanting to talk about Cosette at all, just the curt manner in which Destiny was trying to extract biological information about the original occupant of her body. It’s pretty clear that the intended audience for his new piece is Cosette, but Destiny (and Anna) will have to do.

In the meantime, sirens blare outside, indicating a D2 attack in progress. Thankfully it’s only one small unit that Cosette is able to deal with swiftly…but due to Takt’s sleep deprivation even this amount of fighting takes him close to his usual limit. Things get worse when Destiny detects a whole herd of D2 up in the forested mountains.

Once there, they both hear a clear and unnerving tone, which turns out to be the tuning fork of Hell. Apparently Schindler has gone completely off the reservation, and not just in terms of disobeying the Grand Maestro’s orders to leave Takt and Destiny alone.

No, Schindler has decided it’s up to him and Hell to attract D2s in order to get rid of the lower-class, lower-income human “garbage” who in his twisted mind are consuming too much of the world’s very limited resources. He’s trying to make a new world of just the “chosen”—i.e. 1%—with obviously himself being the sole judge of who is worthy of continuing to live or not.

Oh, and he attracted the D2s that interrupted the Symphonica roadshow…and resulted in the death of Cosette. It’s clear that this show has decided to make Schindler (which it’s clear now is not the best name for this guy, considering the reputation of the most famous figure with that name) the Evilest Evil Guy Who Ever Eviled, and while Hell at least looks cool when she’s kicking ass, the pair of them are pretty dull and one-dimensional as villains go.

It remains to be seen if there’s any redeeming them at this point, but Takt and Destiny are in uncharted territory: they’ve only killed D2s…never people, and as angry as Takt is, killing anyone for any reason changes you forever. I imagine Lenny and Titan will make it there in time before Takt has to decide if the Cosette he knew and loved would really want him to kill, even if Schindler deserves it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 06 – Rhapsody in New Orleans

Cosette may not be Cosette anymore, but she is definitely forming a new bond with Takt, day by day. So much so, in fact, that he’s caught off guard when she understands enough about him to make a stupid joke about calling the D2 to their location. She knows he’s not restless about there being no battles (and there are no battles this week), but because he wants to play music. Tapping out notes on the window glass just ain’t cutting it.

It’s fortunate, then, that their next destination of New Orleans happens to be one of the most musical cities on Earth…or at least it was. Now it’s on the verge of being a ghost town. The entire population is senior citizens, as everyone else left long ago when they were younger, and either settled elsewhere, or were killed by the D2 attacks.

While Anna, Cosette and Takt are ostensibly here to stock up on provisions, the former two end up performing one kind task for elderly people after another, starting with delivering groceries, fixing an old front step, and rescuing a kitten. In what seemed like a barren husk of the city turns out to be full of friendly, warm souls you can’t help but want to help.

Takt elected to wait in the car, but eventually had to stretch his legs. While walking down Bourbon Street, he sees someone enter a club from which he can detect the faint sound of music. Turns out it’s an underground jazz club where a handful of cool cats drink and vibe out on the substantial tune collection.

All of them remember the conductor Asahina Kenji, “The Rooster”, who visited the city to perform only once. We learn in dribs and drabs that Kenji, Takt’s father, was also killed in some kind of calamity in Boston. When the audiophiles learn that he’s none other than the Rooster’s son, the entire place goes still…not with resentment…but with veneration.

These people assumed that the “Asahina sound” died with Kenji, so they’re eager to hear if his son can reproduce that sound. They show him to a soundproof studio/concert space where everyone gathers around tables with little lamps…reminders of a “golden age” that’s now gone.

One of the men in the club played the tuba in the orchestra when Ken visited New Orleans. But since the D2 disaster, he feels he’s done nothing but let time go by; without music, he has no purpose in life. Then Takt comes along, brings a sound everyone thought dead back to life, and instills a little hope; reminds everyone of the Pride of Bourbon Street.

As Takt found his spot and his people, Anna was flagged down in the street by another older woman who mistakes her for her daughter, Maria. Initially Anna is too nice to drop the truth on the mother, but even when she does, the mother pretends she didn’t hear anything.

As Cosette gives a very heartfelt speech in her robotic meter about how dear Anna is to her as a big sister and protector, the mother’s husband comes home, and tells Anna that their daughter left with her young family years ago and later died. Maria’s mother couldn’t accept that loss, and as her husband heartbreakingly puts it, Maria “lifes on” only in her mother’s mind. I’d like to think both Anna and Cosette enjoyed having a mom, if only for a very short time.

When it’s polite to do so, Anna and Cosette eventually take their leave of the husband and wife, having both given and received something out of the interaction. Then Cosette uses her Takt Detector (Detakter?) and they find him exactly where he belongs, doing what he loves.

Cosette says, with genuine affection behind the cold logic of her voice, that she loves when Takt gets to play music. So do I…especially when it’s Rhapsody in Blue, one of the first pieces of music I remember listening to on our baby Fisher-Price phonograph. Like Peter and the Wolf and Beethoven’s Ninth, Blue was one of the formative pieces that made me truly understand the power of music.

Because Cosette wants Takt to play more, she’ll keep fighitng until all the D2s are gone and everyone can play music. In the meantime, Takt is given some blank musical sheets with which to finally commit his window glass-tapping reveries to paper. The break from D2 battles was perfectly timed after last week’s barnburner. New Orleans wasn’t just some random stop on their journey, it felt real and alive, and as we see, it’s strength enduring in the people who remain. Their next stop will have big shoes to fill!.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 03 – Into the Stairs

Nene gets lost in the clouds wrestling with the knowledge that Hanako-kun was a murderer. Her BFF Akane Aoi notices, and wants to cheer her up. Knowing Nene likes scary stories, she tells her about another School Wonder, the  “Misaki Stairs” by the art room. Anyone who steps on the fourth step is dragged into the underworld and torn to bits.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun comes in a few days later than Magia Record with its cursed school stairs. But Hanako-kun makes a great point to Nene: Apparitions need human attention to survive, and scary or unsettling stories about them are simply more memorable, because they serve both as entertainment and caution.

As soon as Aoi’s teacher came in telling her to meet him in the art room—beside which the Misaki stairs stood—I knew she’d fall victim to the very rumor she relayed to Nene. And so the next day, not only are Aoi’s plants and Aoi’s desk gone, but classmates, teachers, even her parents have never even heard of her.

The only one who remembers is Nene. The episode is very effective at building dread as Nene exhausts all possibilities and it dawns on her that her best friend has been erased. Fortunately, Nene is friendly with the Seventh School Wonder. Not only that, she’s not the only one who lost someone; Kou lost two classmates.

Nene and Kou meet in Hanako’s bathroom, and he tells them that their classmates were pulled into the Spirit World. The fourth Misaki stair is a boundary between the worlds, so the trio crosses that boundary and finds themselves in a lush, multi-leveled whimsical city populated by creepy masked dolls.

Hanako-kun warns the humans that while in the domain of a School Wonder, that Wonder holds all the cards and thus can’t be defeated by outsiders. To that end, they must play the Wonder’s game. Here, the Misaki Stairs manifest not just in the mad town, but in a woman who calls them on the phone.

We learn Misaki was a teacher who was slashed to pieces in the school years ago, so the “game” consists of Nene, Kou and Hanako finding a part of her in order to advance to the next level of the town. Hanako believes if they ascend high enough they’ll reach the location of Hanako’s Yorishiro, a precious object that serves as a Wonder’s power source.

This could all be an elaborate attempt to generate more buzz in the human world, but if that’s the case, why are Nene and Kou the only ones who notice anyone is missing? And what was up with that unusually hot guy Nene bumps into, and who leaves a black crane in her uniform?

We’ll have to wait until next week to find out, but this was a strong start to a two-parter, full of dread, atmosphere, and stakes.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 02 – Boy in the Sky

Nene finds herself worked to the bone cleaning bathrooms by Hanako, to the point it interferes with her modest attempts to snag a man. Still, the fact that same pursuit led to her turning into a fish means she still owes the apparition who saved her big-time, and Nene is nothing if not honorable.

Toilet-bound Hanako-kun‘s art is so goshdarn colorful, whimsical and immersive you can forgive that it’s quite light on actual animation. It looks like absolutely nothing else airing, lending it a certain specialness.

When rumors spread of a spirit that makes off with people’s stuff and will kill anyone who looks at them, Nene ends up cornered by just such a monster, and has to be saved once again by Hanako. The monster turns out to be a group of small, bunny-like apparitions called Mokke.

Nene learns the Mokke must conform to the rumors people spread about them to continue existing, be they good or evil. To that end, Hanako asks Nene on behalf of the Mokke if she’ll help change the rumors about them to something more positive and less murder-y…which she does!

Nene is just getting the hang of her new boss, to the point she starts considering him a friend and adding “-kun” to the end of his name, a more familiar way of addressing him. Enter eigth-grader Minamoto Kou, who while not the prince fallen from the sky Nene hoped for, is the bearer of a sacred, ancient art of exorcism…and Hanako is his latest target.

Exorcising Hanako, however, proves difficult for the relative newbie, as his unmastered lightning staff hurts him as well as his target. Still, Kou informs Nene (whom he finds rather cute, and who can blame him) that Hanako was a murderer when he was alive, and still carries the kitchen knife he used to do the deed.

Hanako-kun doesn’t dispute this, but asserts that God gave him a chance to redeem himself in his current role. While Kou is no match for him, in a gesture of good faith he only punches him out to end the fight, and looks forward to the “excitement” of having Kou around, sensing he’s destined to be a great exorcist…just not today!

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 01 (First Impressions) – Meeting the Seventh School Wonder

From Lerche, a studio that specializes in highly-styled high concept school series, comes Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun, a title that initially invokes dread: will this be full of toilet humor? Fortunately not at all; it centers Nanako, one of the School Wonders of Kamome Academy: the ghost of a student who resides the girls’ bathroom. Legends claim that Nanako will grant a wish if the wisher pays a certain price.

Yashiro Nene wants to have success in love with her current crush, and manages to summon Nanako, only to learn she’s actually a boy, and someone mischievous and somewhat inexperienced in matters of love. Nene doesn’t exactly have a lot of options, so she follows Nanako’s advice, which unfolds in a similar fashion to a Wile E. Coyote-vs.-Road Runner scenario: ill-conceived scheme after another fails.

By the time an impatient Nene swallows a mermaid scale and transforms into a fish, she’s realized that all of her efforts thus far were for naught, because she never bothered to actually talk to her crush. She doesn’t even know his name! She just placed him on a pedestal and appointed him as her one and only goal in life. Then a mermaid from the “other side” comes to claim her, and Nanako whips out a big knife and protects her.

When Nanako eats the second mermaid scale, he’s able to grant Nene her wish to be changed back into a human. In exchange, she must serve as his assistant with his wish-granting business. Gorgeously adorable design, top-notch voices spewing witty banter, a fast-paced, energetic story, and that prototypical Lerche “edge” all conspire to make this an enticing option for Winter 2020.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 17

In a diverting case-of-the-week that involves non-magical clients, Chise meets Stella, a girl just a bit younger than her, who can’t find her little brother Ethan after he ran off after they had an argument. What makes this most likely a magical case is that Stella’s parents have no memory of their son.

Obviously, Stella’s a wreck, but she’s not so much of a wreck she isn’t totally freaked out by a huge skull-faced dude coming out of Chise (or speaking through her body, turning her eyes silver). I also snickered when she reacted to the dog talking.

Turns out the big teddy Elias gave Chise also turns her excess magic into crystal flowers, like a kind of release valve to preserve her body. She puts those flowers, which are like candy to fae, to good use asking the various beings in the forest where the kid went.

In fact, Chise, wanting desperately to do something for someone after so much has been done for her (though if we’re honest, she’s done plenty), goes so far as to let what looks like a more feral Elias suck her blood in exchange for info on Ethan’s whereabouts. This troubles Stella greatly, but as Elias tells her, mages aren’t omnipotent, and in exchange for something, they must be willing to give something in return.

When they finally locate Ethan, he’s in the clutches of the ancient trickster Ashen Eye, who has claimed the boy as his own after Stella’s harsh words to him (“I don’t need you!”) broke their familial bond and made the kid fair game.

Knowing what happened when Ashen Eye was involved before, I figured no one was actually in any real danger, even when both Ethan and Elias are sucked into a dark void (Ash isn’t omnipotent either, but he’s been around the block, and  a lot more powerful than the younger Elias).

The loss of Elias causes Chise to wig out momentarily, but Ruth consoles her. Ash simply wants them to jump through a few hoops; he’ll only keep Ethan if they can’t find him, and if he and Stella can’t reconcile. As they search, Elias must deal with Ethan, who immediately takes a liking to his bony head.

This causes Elias to transform into a kind of Winter Ops version of Chise, and with his uniquely non-human perspective on humanity, gets Ethan to define what he thinks family is. It’s more than just blood; it’s people you want to be with more than anyone else, even if you don’t always get along and say things you don’t mean.

Chise uses the pelt that Ashen Eye gave her to transform into a were-bear, and uses her heightened sense of smell to locate Elias and Ethan. As I suspected, Ash is satisfied the siblings have learned their lesson and warns them to choose their words carefully, because they aren’t sure who might be listening who will take those words seriously.

When initially speaking through Chise, Elias got Stella to agree to pay them in “sweets” for their services locating her brother (who the parents now remember, reuniting the family as it was). But Chise gets something a lot better for her kindness: she gains a friend in Stella.

And hey, even after all that exertion, Chise doesn’t pass out, cough up any blood, or go into any kind of trance or coma, so everything comes up Team Ainsworth this week. I just hope Chise doesn’t immediately revert to her “ZOMG I’m so useless” attitude next week; she’s without doubt earning her keep.

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