Bokutachi no Remake – 02 – On the Right Track

Given the chance to go back ten years, Kyouya has resolved to do a better job this time around, starting with taking a different path in choosing art school. But beyond that he had no idea where that new path would take him. If the answers are in his head, you could say they’re locked, and getting to know his three roommates is a good start in finding the means to unlock them.

By coincidence, Kyouya gets a part-time job at the same konbini as Nanako, and a part of that job is restocking the walk-up fridges. Between the darkness of the stocking space behind the shelves and the coolness of the fridge, the scene is akin to a cozy winter night in the park, only Kyouya and Nanako are on the clock.

While Kyouya may have entered art school completely devoid of confidence, he’s already learned from his roomies that just because they’re talented doesn’t mean they don’t have their own insecurities. It didn’t sit well with Nanako that she thougth Lake Biwa was the ocean, so she left her hometown to get a better idea of the size of the world, hoping to learn who she is as the explores it.

Kyouya admits to us that he’s in no hurry to get past either quiet little scenes with Nanako in the fridge or even the little conflicts that arise when two guys and two girls live in the same space (read: food stealing, which Shinoaki will not tolerate).

Things become a bit more urgent in the now when their class is assigned a short film assignment. They’ve only got three minutes to tell their story. Having spoken to Aki and Nanako and having found similarities to his own (and even having visions of the three on the same train platform), Kyouya comes up with the idea of telling the story of a woman’s life by using a day at train station.

Tsurayuki, the one roommate Kyouya hasn’t reached out to about why he enrolled, goes into his room for a half-hour and comes out with a treatment for the station idea. But then he takes Kyouya aside and says he had the same exact idea locked away. He knows Kyouya didn’t steal it, but asks if “anything else is going on.” Kyouya is unsure of how to answer, so he says nothing, and the tension passes.

Still, it’s telling that Tsurayuki is the first one to get a hint that there’s more to Kyouya than meets the eye, even if he has no idea what that is. He’s a screenwriter, after all, and scenarios like that are always going through his head. He accepts that two people get the same idea all the time, and the group starts production of the short in earnest.

This inevitably leads to creative differences, with producer Kyouya’s insistence they stick to the three-minute limit butting up against Tsurayuki’s desire to tell his story his way. He thinks if it’s good, no one will care about the runtime, and even asks Shinoaki and Nanako to adjust what they’re doing to accommodate his contribution.

When Kyouya puts his foot down, Tsurayuki is angered, but in this case at least, Kyouya is right; this is an assignment and if the rules are broken all their collective efforts are for naught. That said, he also knows Tsurayuki has a point about taking risks and not over-compromising on one’s art.

A lot happens this week with the group beyond the group’s short film. There’s the aforementioned getting-to-know-you and slice-of-life scenes; Kyouya, Shinoaki and Nanako are snared into a fine arts club desperate for members, and Eiko reveals her group is also filming in a train station and won’t be outdone. I do hope at some point Eiko becomes a less antagonistic presence, knowing how well she and Kyouya work together in the future.

When Kyouya’s teacher can tell he’s down in the dumps, she shows him a script from a film that everyone loved, but no one liked the finished product, because the director and cast got to do whatever they wanted without any boundaries. She reminds him a producer doesn’t just issue cuts or subtraction, but about properly wrangling and harnessing the collective talent of his team to make a final product people will like.

It’s just as much a creative process as writing a script, drawing storyboards, or acting, and it’s something Kyouya reveals he’s actually good at when he applies himself. He manages to strike the balance of motivating Tsurayuki and the others to do what they do best without letting them run wild, and they in turn appreciate his calming, organizing presence.

That’s why it’s so heartbreaking that on the first day of filming, when all their planning and preparation is about to start paying off with real images on film, learn Tsurayuki accidentally checked out a digital still camera instead of a video camera. Here, the others echo a statement Kyouya had repeated to himself and used as a crutch for much of his ten years to come: It is what it is…nothing to be done about it.

It is here where we learn the true power of Kyouya’s potential as a producer: he alone, having lived and learned from those ensuing years, is the only one of the four to say No, something CAN be done about it. And he’s right. Chris Marker’s La Jetée is just one famous example of a film composed of a series of still photographs.

I’m guessing that’s what they’ll do, but even if it isn’t, the fact Kyouya isn’t going to let things end here means he’s continuing to learn and benefit from the time jump. What’s so satisfying about this dynamic is that he now finds himself in a position to help everyone out because living and working and bonding with them helped get him in that position. It’s a symbiotic balance creative teams always strive for.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 02 – A Matter of Application

I’ll admit it: I missed the airship this week. They didn’t show as much of it as I would have liked even last week, just as they don’t show quite as much of Steampunk Paris as I’d like. That said, what we do see impresses “country bumpkin” Noé once he and Vanitas are released from jail on the orders of Count Orlok, a vampire charged with maintaining the human-vampire balance in the city.

While Orlok claims the Book of Vanitas to be a bunch of hooey, he’s also stolen the book, and intends to execute Amelia and “rake Vanitas over the coals” for his role in abetting her escape. Noé, clearly has strong feelings about “curse-bearers”, or vamps born under a blue moon based on flashbacks involving a childhood friend who became one.

Noé is having none of Orlok’s games, and smashes his desk to splinters with a kick to get his attention. He insists the book be returned to Vanitas so the two of them can apprehend a vampire who has been murdering humans in Paris, bring him to Orlok, and show the count firsthand how the book can save vampiredom.

After a conversation on their target, one Thomas Berneux, over rooftops with those awesome airships floating impossibly in the sky, the two soon find Tommy in the middle of trying to take his next victim. Noé gives Vanitas the opening he needs to use the book to temporarily paralyze him. Everything is going smoothly…until two new faces arrive.

They are the pint-sized Luca and his “chevalier” Jeanne (clearly taking after d’Arc), who are convinced Vanitas is using the book to create curse-bearers, not cure them. Clearly they’re misinformed; while the book can be used for such a nefarious purpose, Vanitas uses it to heal, not harm.

The thing is, even Noé is no match for Jeanne, who isn’t interested in talking things through, so the pair have to make a run for it. But as much as he claims to dislike Vanitas, as long as he keeps committing “resoundingly righteous acts” such as saving Amelia, he’ll keep protecting him with his not inconsiderable vampire strength and speed.

There were a couple nice bursts of action and Vanitas and Noé continue to be a hoot to watch, it can be hard to keep track of the show’s ever-expanding glossary of names, positions and terms, and thus hard to get too deeply invested. It’s as if Vanitas no Carte is so intent on setting up its many and varied game pieces on its ornate board, it forgot that the game actually has to start at some point!

Those Snow White Notes – 06 – Everyone’s an Apprentice

Yui lights a fire under the ass of the Shamisen Club when she learns her gamer friend from Aomori is also participating in the group division of the Matsugoro Cup. Her name is “Maimai”—could it be Setsu’s self-appointed rival Tanuma Mai? Whoever it is, Yui doesn’t want to lose to them!

She zealously pushes the others to memorize and practice “Shinbushi” for a month, then Koyabu-sensei and the instrument shop owner Oodawara-san arrange a training camp…in Aomori. When they arrive, Setsu still isn’t sure whether he’ll enter the individual division, while Shuri is struggling with her timing.

In the throes of a full-on slump, Shuri reaches out for advice from Setsu, who is too preoccupied with his own stuff to give her anything other than “just keep doing what you’re doing”. This angers Kaito mightily, but not just because he’s in love with Shuri and Setsu is being a condescending jerk. He’s mostly mad—just as practically everyone else he knows is disappointed—that Setsu isn’t making full use of his talents.

Earlier at school, Kaito was a soccer star with a realistic shot at the pros until he blew his knee out, closing the door on his preferred future forever. He then overheard his father say the injury was a “good thing” because it meant he could focus on his studies and follow in daddy’s footsteps. As such, Kaito considers himself “perfectly set on the rails” his parents laid down.

Rai tells Setsu this, providing context for why Kaito blew his stack, and in the baths, Setsu comes to Kaito to apologize. Kaito apologizes too, and then the two of them and Rai start horseplaying, which Yui and Shuri can overhear from the girl’s bath, indicating the boys made up.

The next morning, super-early, Oodawara-san takes the club up to a vantage point overlooking the Tsugaru Strait and offers a history lesson that proves instrumental in Setsu reorganizing his thoughts about finding his sound and participating in the individuals. The first Tsugaru shamisen players were blind and living hand to mouth. Oodawara wonders what the hearts of people looked like to those who never saw the natural beauty of Tsugaru around them.

Oodawara goes on to say rules and traditions only go so far when it comes to Tsugaru Shamisen, since the circumstances and experiences of the first players were so very different from their successors, who weren’t blind. The past is not simply endlessly repeated; there is a conversation between the past and present, meaning change and boundary-pushing is not only inevitable, but crucial to its survival.

Setsu, grasping better how to find his sound, has Rai and Kaito switch shamisens to better match their playing styles and personalities. Shuri keeps struggling, but is determined not to give up. Wakana and family friend Kouta pay him a visit, and it’s clear to Setsu they’re both trying to light a fire under him.

Talk turns to gramps, who never took on any apprentices because he believed anyone who truly listened to him would be able to learn his sound. But more importantly is what Wakana says before parting: gramps also said that the reactions of the people listening were the most important lessons. In other words, Setsu will never find his sound if there’s no one listening.

Setting up atop the vantage point overlooking Cape Tappimi (or “Dragonsflight”), Setsu starts to play, and at the base of the hill, Shuri hears him and comes running as fast as she can. She can hear Setsu’s sound, and when she reaches the top that sound is so powerful, a feeling rose up in her chest that made her suddenly shout “Wa!”

Turns out that while “Wa” isn’t one of the kakegoe shouts, she shouted it precisely when she should have, because she was riding the sound, not chasing it as she had been throughout her slump. Setsu’s sound was “leaping so freely” it not only felt amazing, but helped her leap right out of that slump with a new understanding of what she was doing and how to fix it, all through the power of his sound.

Setsu, in turn, thanks Shuri for giving him the final little push he needed to decide he’s going to enter the individuals after all. That’s right: IT IS ON.

In their final “Shinbushi” practice of training camp, the club gets through the piece without a single mistake. Everyone’s feeling good, and Oodawara suggests they celebrate their success by attending Nebuta, one of the “three great festivals of Tohoku” according to Yui, and something hard to argue with what with the excellent music, dancing, and food.

All the while, the tiny obaasan who hosted the club at the guest house clandestinely shows off her god-level texting skills, revealing that she was one of Umeko’s spies all along. She informs Umeko that Setsu has indeed agreed to enter the individual division, just as Umeko is promoting the Matsugoro Cup. She got what she wanted yet again, but in this case it’s because Setsu wants it too.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 05 – Red(shirt) Herring

This is one of those fast-paced grab-bag episodes where nearly every member of the main cast is given time to shine, yet doesn’t feel overstuffed. We start with the C-plot, in which Captain Freeman meets the haughty captain of the USS Vancouver, which is newer and superior in every way to the Cerritos.

The two ships are tasked with removing a rogue moon on a collision course with a planet, but first Freeman has to wade into interminable negotiations with inhabitants of the planet who for various reasons don’t want the moon destroyed. I’m immediately reminded of two season 3 TNG episodes: “Deja Q”, which involves moving a moon, and “The Vengeance Factor” which involves mediation with aliens.

The Vancouver also happens to be the ship where Boimler’s girlfriend is stationed, which means they get to meet up, forming the A-plot. At first Mariner is convinced Lt. Barbara Brinson is either made up or a hologram, and when she finally meets her, she finds her to be a bit too perfect. Boimler also feels threatened when he learns Brinson will be working closely with Jet, her burly ex from the Cerritos.

Finally we have the B-plot, in which Tendi and Rutherford are instantly enamored with the Vancouver and all her advanced bells and whistles unheard of on the technologically modest Cerritos, including a nearly mythical diagnostic tool called the T-88. The two are assigned one each by Lt. Cmdr. Ron Docent with the promise that whoever does the most with it will get to keep it.

“When a Starfleet relationship seems too good to be true, then red alert, man—it probably is!” So says Mariner, who as the crew’s Trek Fan Surrogate, knows what she’s talking about. Not only have the TV shows been full of these kinds of one-off relationships in which the significant other turns out to be a spy or alien or parasite, but Mariner herself witnessed a friend’s face being melted off by her seemingly perfect boyfriend years back.

Worried about her getting back with Jet, Boimler ends up breaking work-life boundaries by visiting Brinson at work, while Mariner follows him to try to investigate Brinson’s true identity. Neither Brad nor Beckett come off particularly well.

But it doesn’t end there. Mariner becomes increasingly paranoid, to the point she sets up a bulletin board with string connecting possibilities (this board is packed with references) like Charlie’s “Pepe Silvia” investigation in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. What is effective is that based on past Trek and her own traumatic experience, it’s never 100% certain she’s not right, even though you expect the episode to subvert the trope.

Boimler than tries to compensate for what he feels are personal shortcomings by wearing the coolest outfit ever (as determined by computer algorithm) and joining Brinson and Jet in the mess for a beer. Trouble is, Brinson and Jet are still on duty. Then Boimler trips and spills beer on Brinson (pulling what in Starfleet should be called a Sonya Gomez), then a crazed Mariner snips off some of her hair.

When Boimler comes to Brinson to apologize for being such a jealous jerk she agrees to a reset, but still not convinced Brinson is a normal hot human woman, Mariner goes so far as to go on a totally unauthorized EVA to one of the orbital platforms where Boimler and Brinson are working alone. There, she encounters a naked Boimler who mistook her for Brinson. I guess disregard for regulations is rubbing off on him, eh?

Back on the Vancouver, Tendi and Rutherford get into a heated competition for who can scan the most with their shiny new T-88s, hoping to show them off to their division-mates back home. Docent announces they achieved the exact same amount of work, so they both get the tools, plus something they didn’t know they were vying for: a transfer to the Vancouver.

After Boimler bumps his head on a console and passes out, Brinson and Mariner start to fight. Turns out Brinson has been suspecting Mariner all of the things Mariner suspected of her. Why? Because Mariner is such a badass, it seems unlikely she’d be friends with a guy like Boimler.

Learning of Brinson’s esteem for her, the two start to hit it off as friends in their own right, bonding over their shared amusement with Boimler’s many greenhorn mistakes. Eventually, Captain Freeman orders the immediate implosion of the moon when she learns the last holdout and his wife were the only inhabitants of a second planet that would be made uninhabitable. As Spock once said, The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

When checking on Boimler, Brinson and Mariner discover a parasite attached to his brain, which was making him chemically irresistible to select others of his species. This was a factor in Brinson’s falling for him so fast, but as she notes it isn’t the only factor—she actually does like the guy!

Unfortunately for him she likes her career a bit more, and the need to research the parasite from his head means it’s probably best if they part ways rather than exacerbate what is already an interstellar long distance relationship. That said, she’s made plans to hang out with Mariner in the future, so maybe we’ll see her again.

Finally, Tendi and Rutherford decide they don’t want to abandon their friends and comrades on the Cerritos, something Docent is furious about because he intended to swap with them, leaving behind the stress of being a Vancouver crew member, which is more akin to being one on the Enterprise-D: just about every week, something epic happens.

Back on Home Sweet Cerritos, Tendi and Rutherford reveal they both stole duffels full of T-88s for each other, thus confirming why they are friends. All in all, this episode was a great vehicle to further explore the main cast all doing their things while held together by the overarching moon mission. Well-constructed and imminently charming and entertaining.

Stray Obervations:

  • Mariner mentions a lot of possibilities for Brinson’s true form, but one of the funnier ones is “sexy people in rompers who will execute you for stepping on the grass”, a reference to the TNG first season episode “Justice”.
  • She also mentions “salt succubi”, referring to the monster in very first episode of Star Trek: “The Man Trap”, which aired fifty-four years ago next Tuesday!
  • She also mentions Q (who actually helped the Enterprise move the moon in “Deja Q” and Captain Picard Day, which was first celebrated on-camera in “The Pegasus”.
  • Mariner’s ship, the Keto, resembles Captain Beverly Picard’s medical ship, the USS Pasteur, in an alternate future shown in the TNG finale “All Good Things.” Its spherical primary hull is itself an homage to some of the earliest designs of the first Enterprise, before the saucer shape was chosen.
  • Furthermore, the Keto is docked at Deep Space Nine, while the Starfleet uniforms match those worn in DS9’s final season.
  • Mariner’s fake code prior to going on EVA is “Mariner 8”, which was a spacecraft meant to orbit Mars that, like Beckett’s carrer, failed to launch.
  • Mariner compares Jet to both Kirk and the Enterprise (NX-01)’s chief engineer, Trip Tucker.

 

Cardcaptor Sakura – 17 – ERASED (Temporarily)

It’s CCS’ first beach episode! That means ample chances for Sakura to show off her talent for swimming as well as potato peeling during dinner prep. Turns out Syaoran is pretty good at swimming (and chopping) as well, giving the impression that everything involving him and Sakura is an competition, unspoken or otherwise.

For all of Sakura’s strengths, she’s an incurable scaredy-cat—far more than any of her friends—so when Naoko tells a chilling ghost story about a shrine in a seaside cave where students vanished, she can’t sleep and wanders the grounds after lights-out. That’s when she encounters Syaoran, who is relatively nice for once! The two are able to simply sit together on the beach and talk, keeping each other company.

The next evening is the class test of courage, which ends up bearing an uncanny resemblance to Naoko’s tale. A skittish Sakura must cling to Tomoyo in the cave at all times, and lets out a blood-curdling HOEEEE when a teacher jumps out of the shadows wearing a sheet. But things get scary for realty when Naoko, Rika, and Chihiru all vanish before their eyes!

Soon even Tomoyo disappears, leaving Sakura all alone and a terrified wreck—until Syaoran shows up to help her calm down and gather the courage and focus needed to detect the Clow Card responsible for the vanishings. Using Float to cross the burned bridge, she manages to capture Erase, and even offers it to Syaoran, stating that she’d have remained a mess had he not helped her.

However, Syaoran declines, saying Sakura earned the card fair and square. He may still be a pompous jerk at times, and the two may still be crushing on Yukito by episode’s end, but this was another key early episode in their steady development of their relationship as friends and allies (and someday more!) who can rely on each other in a pinch.

Assassins Pride – 06 – Kick Back, then Run for Your Lives

Since the tournament ended so abruptly last week, I was glad for some kind of epilogue, which happens to come in the form of a belated Halloween episode. It starts with Rosetti entering Kufa’s room at night with ominous news, and then we see Melida and Elise meeting up with Salacha and Mule and heading to a secret underground pajama after-party held by the seniors of the two schools.

It’s a welcome opportunity both for the characters to relax and for this newly formed quartet to interact and bond some more. I also liked how they all admitted they had no love lives to speak of, but Mule still didn’t even bother asking poor Elli!

Then Mule and Salacha regale Melida and Elise with the harrowing legend of the Gray Witch, and how there’s a murderer in Flandore copying her M.O. of cutting out the hearts of her victims. It’s enough to make Elli faint, confirming her Little Sister status.

When the lights suddenly go out on the party and a witch appears, wreathed in pink mana, there wasn’t really any doubt was was going on: Rosetti found out about the secret party, and decided to have some fun by putting a scare into them as punishment for breaking the rules.

Of course, the girls don’t know this, and end up getting chased by the witch through wet underground waterways and getting covered in a strange squishy pink substance. It’s enough for Elli to consider simply tearing off her robes, but the others hold her back.

Personally I thought Rosa and Kufa went way too far with their fright-fest…at times it bounded on straight-up cruelty. These girls just went through a very stressful ordeal (the tournament plus Madia) and just want to kick back and relax for one night…haven’t they earned that much?

Once the Witch catches up to them, there’s a wonderful comedic moment when Salacha sprouts winged feet to fight her, and the others make a collective impressed noise…only for Salacha to bonk her head on the ceiling, followed by the others making a collective…unimpressed noise.

When they finally exit the waterway to street level, they’re relieved to find Kufa there, but the adults aren’t quite done with their tricks, as he reveals he’s bleeding from the chest and mouth, having had his heart ripped out.

Thus thoroughly terrified and chastened, Kufa has the girls apologize for breaking curfew and whatnot, but then they turn on him for his liberal use of the pink goo, which they see as perverted.

After all that running around scared, when the girls try to rise from their kneeling positions, they find their legs are asleep, so Kufa has to carry them all to a bed to sleep, only for Melida to grab his hand while he sits beside the bed, ensuring he won’t be sleeping tonight.

While the identity of the witch, and thus the stakes of the episode, were never in doubt or particularly high, respectively, this was still a fun, well-executed, seasonally appropriate episode that got to let its hair down and provided an extended intro to Salacha and Mule.

KonoSuba – 04

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This week’s KonoSuba felt like three separate and distinct KonoSubas in one, all coalescing at the end around a single theme: whether Aqua is any good. We begin with Darkness showing off her repaired armor (and somewhat sadly asking Kazuma to praise her sometimes) and Megumin getting really excited about her new Manatite staff.

Kazuma also isn’t wanting for anything, as he later buys clothes and equipment better suited for his environment (albeit the same green shade as his tracksuit). All three spent their cabbage spoils wisely, but Aqua didn’t. In fact, she spent all the money she had and built up a 100,000-eris bar tab, thinking she’d be good for it, only for most of her cabbages to turn out to be lettuce, which isn’t worth nearly as much.

This is ridiculous and hilarious and makes perfect sense, since Aqua has so little luck. Kazuma, meanwhile, is roling in luck and cash, and wants to move out of the stables, but instead pays Aqua’s tab, after she tries pretty much everything: flattery, begging, and finally shaking her bum.

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Part Two of the three parter is the marvelous story of how Kazuma is forced to tag along on Megumin’s practice sessions far from town (where she won’t get scolded by guards) so she has someone to carry her home (just thinking about the silliness of such arrangement would send any milk I’m drinking out my nose).

She finds an abandoned castle perched atop a cliff, and day after day, once a day, blasts it with explosion magic, and every day, Kazuma carries her home. At first, it’s a chore, but he starts to get into it in spite of himself, gradually becoming a kind of aficianado; the equivalent of an “explosion foodie.”

Every explosion has its own intensity and personality, and Megumin has good and bad days. They bond through the experience, and Kazuma’s previously dismissive attitude toward her gives way to a kind of respect and understanding.

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His attitude towards Aqua, on the other hand, remains extremely dismissive. Aqua seems happy to be bringing home free dinner (and I’d be happy too!) but Kazuma is restless. He doesn’t think they can beat the Devil King, and he thinks a lot of that has to do with Aqua not being the all-powerful goddess he thought he had.

A Megumin aptly puts it, his “verbal lashings are pretty nasty;” subjecting Darkness would bring her tears of joy, but they only bring Aqua tears of sorrow (though Aqua reacts interestingly to Darkness’ interest in being reamed by Kazuma).

Kazuma’s war with Aqua is put on hold when a Dullahan arrives in town – one of the Devil King’s top generals. Looking kinda like Ains Ooal Gown’s cousin, his main grievance is with the constant explosion spells being cast on the castle where he’s taken up residence. Heh, I knew that castle wasn’t abandoned!

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After failing to pass of blame to another town wizard, Megumin steps forward and actually takes responsibility, though she refuses to apologize for or cease doing what is, for her, as natural and necessary as breathing. If she has to fight the Dullahan into submission for him to understand, so be it. Aqua arms herself and stands beside Megumin in solidarity.

Then the Dullahan, out of patience, prepares to his Megumin with a Death curse that will kill her in one week, but Darkness races in front of her and takes the curse instead. Now, I know enough about Death spells to know they’re typically not reversible; once you get one, it’s only a matter of time. This incident actually heightened the peril dynamic of the entire show for me; it looked like it was actually going to get serious.

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Of course, this being KonoSuba, feelings like that don’t last long, but that’s just fine, because the route it takes instead is true to its mission statement to send up every fantasy trope it can find in the most creative way possible. Because the Dullahan death-cursed a masochist, he only made things weirder and more of a hassle for himself, so he retreats before Darkness jumps on his horse.

Before he does, he challenges the party to come after him, and if they can fight their way through his castle fortress and get to him, he just might lift the curse. After he leaves, Megumin again shows she has heart and guts by resolving to take that challenge. Kazuma, who as we saw bonded with her somewhat in training, declares his intent to accompany her. It looks like the party is about to embark on a grand adventure to save their selfless comrade.

But NOPE, Aqua just uses her magic to instantly lift the death curse from Darkness as easily one balls up a tissue and tosses it in a dustbin. JOB DONE. I have so say…I wasn’t expecting that at all, but again, it made perfect sense.

Aqua had been beaten down the entire episode as an underachieving, whiny, pathetic excuse for an arch priest, but ends up the heroine, gaining the adoration of the entire town while utterly sapping Kazuma and Megumin of their motivation. So going back to the question of whether Aqua is any good…well, she is, but only at very specific things at very specific times. If this bizarre party is going to thrive, it will do so mostly by threading needles.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 08

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Saya and Kirin begin training as Festa tag partners, and it doesn’t go so well at first. While both are formidable on their own, when it comes time to work together, they’re not in sync. Saya concludes it’s due to the lack of a strong bond between them, so before any more training, she suggests the two of them socialize, something neither she nor Kirin has much experience with.

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But while they start out sitting rather far away from each other on a bench, they gradually come both metaphorically and physically closer together on that bench, as Saya shows Kirin’s passion for rare weapons (following her down a dark alley full of unsavory gentlemen to get to the shop), and in turn, Saya gives Kirin a swimming lesson, something that’s a bit of a sore subject.

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When Kirin somewhat idiotically slams into the lounging Violet Weisburg, she gets mocked for her lack of swimming ability. With little experience defending her pride, Saya steps in to do it on her behalf. The bold, confident, micro bikini-wearing, 35th-ranked strega Violet (a game Tamura Yukari) is quick to accept an unofficial off-campus duel with the unranked Saya, but Saya hands her ass to her with an enormous railgun.

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As a result of their day of socialization and education about one another, the next time Saya and Kirin train, they’re a lot better; even better than the golden couple of Ayato and Julis. And it all came down to getting to know and respect one another on more than a superficial level. Now they’re not just partners, but friends on first-name terms.

This was a pleasant little episode that didn’t try to do too much on the eve of the Phoenix Festa. It merely strengthened the bonds of two harem members, paving the way for them go far in their competition block. But if Saya wants to face off against Ayato and Julis, and prove to both Julis and Ernesta that she, and her father’s weapons, are the best, it will be a long climb through the brackets.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 07

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The sprawling underground ballast area where Ayato and Kirin fall becomes a crucible in which Kirin makes the crucial move from her uncle’s path to one of her own, encouraged by Ayato to do so with the assurance she won’t be alone on such a path. Considering how decisively he handles the boss dragon (albeit reaching his 5-minute limit), Kirin knows she has an ally who is strong and kind.

What she needs a little help with, which isn’t surprising considering how young and impressionable she is, is realizing her own agency and value as an individual, not as the tool of another. She also decides (due to Ayato’s nervous vacillating) that she might have a chance with Amagiri-senpai, making her an official member of the harem, if she wasn’t already.

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For too long Kirin’s uncle has gotten away with using her guilt, her sense of obligation, his bluster, and the back of his hand to cow Kirin to do his bidding. No longer. In a very simple but elegant scene, she takes one last slap, but blocks his second. She refuses to cut ties to Ayato, and instead looks her uncle in the eyes and cuts ties with him.

She’ll do things her own way from now on. Will costs come with that choice? Of course, not least because her uncle doesn’t really have any other means of advancing in the bureaucracy. He could grow desperate and do something unpredictable. And while some may say Kirin is swapping out her uncle’s influence for Ayato’s, it’s clearly that of the latter who has her own best interests at heart.

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Kirin asks Ayato to a rematch to serve as the first step on her freshly paved path to betterment and happiness. And it’s a very awesome duel at that, with Kirin displaying her usualy mastery of swordsmanship, but Ayato besting her by continually switching up his weapons from sword to spear to daggers, and finally to his bare hands, which she was open for. She’s soundly beaten, but when the match ends she’s smiling ear-to-ear, because it’s her loss, not her uncle’s, and it was also a valuable learning experience.

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After the match, Kirin asks if she can join Ayato, Julis and Saya’s training sessions after all, no longer bound to isolation, which one could argue had stifled her exposure to fighting styles and led to her loss. She’s determined to become stronger so she can save her father. I assume winning a Festa or three would give you enough clout to request sentencing modifications for family members, otherwise, wouldn’t Kirin be better served studying law?

Her uncle shows up one more time, but Kirin doesn’t waver in reiterating she no longer intends to let him use her. She’s also backed up by Ayato, who blocks one of the uncle’s cowardly cheap shots for her, and by Claudia, who promises she won’t take kindly to someone trying to sabotage or corrupt one of her beloved students…and her high-ranking mom will hear of any attempts.

Kirin also thanks her uncle for all the good things he did, but because he never did it for her, only himself, he leaves without responding to her heartfelt emotions. She then gets on first-name basis with Ayato (likely annoying Julis) and is later asked by Saya to be her tag partner. All the while, Ernesta and Camilla prepare to take the next step in their grand plan. Even as only semi-bad guys so far, they’re still preferable to Silas.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 06

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In the aftermath of his duel with Toudou Kirin, Ayato is surprised to find Julis mad not because he got into the duel. In fact she would have been disappointed if he hadn’t stepped in to protect her, and she would have done the same thing in his position, even if it mean showing her cards to a crowd. She’s angry because he lost, which means to date, the sixth grader remains unbeaten, despite being neither an Ogre Lux Wielder or Strega. She just uses a regular ol’ katana.

When he goes to get his new academy badge, Ayato finds Claudia in a very skimpy bikini, which probably isn’t an accident. Claudia lays out the deal with Kirin and her uncle: he’s trying to get a seat on the IEF board, while she seems to have her own agenda. She also mentions her mother, who became an IEF member by undergoing invasive psychogical conditioning to eradicate all her personal desires. It’s something Claudia doesn’t seem to happy about.

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Ayato might’ve thought his dealings with Kirin were over when he lost the duel, but he’s sorely mistaken. Kirin is the “little sister/kohai” member of his harem, reporting for duty. While normally shy and withdrawn, Ayato’s chivalry really inspired her, and she brightens up when talk turns to swordsmanship, an interest both of them share.

When he asks her what she’s fighting for, she says to help her father, without getting into more detail. Whatever the particulars, she’s decided it’s a fair trade to be used as a tool by her uncle in exchange to achieve her own dreams. Ayato doesn’t see it as so equitable (what with the slapping and all), but agrees at least to let Kirin join him for his early morning training.

After seeing her home, Ayato is jumped by Saya, who is suspicious of his motives and eager to hear his answer to whether he’ll be her Festa tag partner. He won’t, and the rejection stings, but it’s good to see Ayato isn’t keeping everyone in his harem hanging. There are winners and losers.

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On the Festa front, Julis is the winner. She’s a bit troubled by his early morning “interaction” with Kirin, however innocent it truly is. But when she accidentally orders extremely spicy curry (dang technology!), he agrees to switch with her, an intimate gesture to be sure. That, and his reiterating that they’re partners and have to learn to work and communicate as one, comforts her considerably. It would seem Ayato likes Julis the most, while Kirin is as I said more of a little sister figure.

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In spite of her uncle’s insistence she remain aloof, Kirin can’t quite resist Ayato’s kindness, and when he jokes about holding hands in the fog, she doesn’t hesitate to take his hand, surprising him. The fact she’s more “developed” than most middle schoolers is also a complication. But when Ernesta and Camilla unleash a horde of regenerating, slghtly-cute monsters on the two, the awkwardness shifts to All Business Mode.

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Kirin shows her sensitivity to the waves put out by the monsters and successfully deduces that if you slice them in small enough pieces a core is revealed that prevents further resurrection. But either because they fought in an under-construction zone (how convenient!) or it’s another Allekant experiment/trap, the very ground beneath Ayato crumbles and he starts to fall.

Kirin grabs his hand, saving him, but he ends up dragging her down the abyss with him. So whether he wants it to be so or not, Ayato’s going to be all alone with the smitten Kirin far longer than he expected. Whatever’s at the bottom of that pit, we’re going to see what these two are made of.

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Rail Wars! – 06

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Um…what in the ever-loving name of nationalized railways was that? What a train wreck of an episode. There were better ways to deepen Naoto and Haruka’s relationship…like any other way imaginable! Instead, the show decides to turn everyone into crazy people. Ugh, where to begin? Better go into…RABUJOI LIST MODE…List Mode…List Mode…

1. Everyone in D4 is supposed to be under house arrest for the events of last week, but no one is actually home. What does that say about the level of discipline at JNR? I didn’t even think what they did last week was that bad. Was it punishment, or forced leave due to trauma?

2. Never mind, because no one is home anyway. Naoto receives a letter in the mail that he does not read or inspect completely, and decides to break the rules of the organization he claims to love so dear to meet up with Haruka and talk about this letter. Why didn’t he just meet at her house, or vice versa? At least then one of them would still be home.

3. Anyway, Aoi, who is also not home, just happens to spot Haruka, who is meeting up with Naoto. Alright, fine; coincidences happen. But then it happens again. And Aoi, for some reason, decides to take out her loaded and ready-to-fire sidearm and point it at Naoto and Haruka across the street. Aoi should be in jail.

4. Some giant mascot thingy that bumped into Naoto and Haruka also bumps into Aoi, causing her to discharge her firearm. Aoi should really be in jail! Naoto and Haruka think it’s a sniper, and bolt from place to place, hand-in-hand. Yet despite spending the entire episode together, Haruka is unable to fully express her feelings to Naoto. Not the most irritating shortcoming of this ep, but just putting it out there.

5. “What’s going on?! Why are there cats?!” Why Indeed, Naoto…Why Indeed.

6. As the cute couple runs around the city like lunatics for no reason, Haruka sheds clothing article after clothing article, until, by the climax of the episode, she’s completely naked. No bra or panties; apparently they were “torn off” by random guys in masks. Sorry, but that’s just dumb. And WTF is with the guys in masks?

7. Shou is barely in the episode, only appearing for a few moments on an LCD screen, having won a curry-eating contest. Again with the defying of JNR regs. I don’t watch the show because of Shou, but…after this episode, now I’m questioning why I’m watching this show at all.

8. Where does one go when being ruthlessly pursued by clowder of assassin cats? (Hits top of head with palm) the Transportation Museum…of course! What the hell, let’s add breaking and entering to the myriad crimes of D4 this week. They can’t be stopped.

9. The museum is the same place where Naoto “rescued” Haruka from a dark room full of boxes eight years ago, and he “rescues” her again this time, too, though Iida, Hitomi and Aoi handle those masked guys who exist for some reason, so he actually ends up relying on several people after pledging not to rely on people so much.

10. Turns out all the paranoid darting around town was for no reason, because had Naoto merely opened the seemingly threatening letter, he’d have seen it was just an overly provocative life insurance pamphlet. Also something that happened for no reason? This episode. Go Home, Rail Wars!…You’re Drunk.

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Rail Wars! – 05

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If you want a single image of Rail Wars!, imagine Aoi’s boob stopping a model train—forever.

If you made a drinking game out of all the times Naoto and Aoi end up in extremely close contact, or all of the times something embarrassing happened involving a part of Aoi’s body, well…you’d be extremely drunk before the halfway point. And if you happen to be an Naoto+Aoi supporter, this ep was right up your alley, as it’s roughly 90% them. I happen to be one, so I was a happy camper.

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Whether it’s Aoi storming into Naoto’s bedroom and derailing a model train with her boob (a portent of the situation to come), or Naoto is getting a lucky paintball shot between her legs; or Aoi is going bare-legged with her miniskirt, the romantic tension comes as hot and heavy as an economic boom-era dual-engine locomotive on a mountain line.

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As has been well established by now, Aoi is a tough-ass chick, but her girly side seems to come out with greater regularity the more she hangs out with Naoto. He represents everything she should hate: pacifism, poor marksmanship, general non-physicality. But even when she wanders off on her own and gets into tight spots, he always tracks her down. He’s always there for her, even as a gun mount, of all things.

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But a gun mount couldn’t anchor her as well, or hold her when the danger has passed and she’s short of breath and wiped out from the stress. Aoi is not only learning that being a JNR public safety officer isn’t the same as being a cop, but also that Naoto isn’t the cowardly weenie she first thought him to be. There’s grit and guts behind his easy smile and slender frame, with a patience and prudence that nicely balances her wildness.

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Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil – 08

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Well, it isn’t as if the show’s been coy about this, but damn, Cecil really is beset on all sides by foes! Thanks to the progress made between them in these last couple episodes, Natsuna isn’t one of them. She even offers to help out with research on Cecil’s mom’s case, albeit in a tsundere kind of way. And Cecil’s wise-seeming father looks past the surface tension to perceive Natsuna as a valuable friend and ally. And it looks like Cecil is going to need as many of those as she can get.

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What looked ostensibly like a “girl’s road trip”-turned-“coming home” story turned out to be much more, as the other members of the Butterfly delegation are led into a trap by their Boston counterpart, Diana who turns out to be very evil. At the same time, Cecil and Natsuna’s lovely little log cabin/maple/syrup/boat retreat is crashed by the hitchhiker Kaede, whom Cecil’s familiar Nanajiinyi felt a faint murderous intent from earlier. In addition to the correct tarot readings by both Sasori and Cecil’s dad, it’s clear that on this show, you take people’s intuitions seriously!

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Kaede challenges Cecil to a metamoloid duel, and when Cecil’s childhood home is destroyed in an instant, it’s enough to force her to summon metal from distant cities to build her own, overpowering and defeating Kaede in the process. But both Kaede and Diana’s Sudden But Inevitable Betrayals are soon cut short by a combination of Cecil and the other Barristers fighting back (respectively) and by their sudden and quite horrific deaths by unknown magical powers. Back in Tokyo, Shizumu reports to his dad that they bowed out of their “missions.” Things are definitely afoot.

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Even more intriguing is the fact that a couple weeks after saving Cecil’s life, Tento appears in Canada—and not by plane—apparently annoyed that Diana and Kaese “jumped the gun.” Obviously Tento is more than just a flirty, ketchup and whipped cream-loving paralegal, and she’s far more powerful than anyone around her is aware. We’re not even sure she’s actually on Cecil’s (or anyone’s) side. All we know is, we fully agree with Cecil that it’s time to get back to researching the incident with her mom…and this time she’s got Natsuna to help out!

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