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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Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil – 07

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Kudos for this episode for choosing to send its cast to Boston, out of all of the places to visit in America. It’s a very odd choice, but for all we know, the majority of Japanese are aware of the city’s existence. It had us wondering if it was some kind of shout-out to ABC’s departed dramady Boston Legal (one of the last network TV shows we watched with any regularity). We even got a look at Boston’s “T” subway (actually one of the better systems on the Eastern seaboard) but it looked a bit dingy and shabby. Moreover, the highly-stylized Butterfly delegation sticks out like a sore Pocky.

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But ultimately it seems Boston was chosen due to its relative proximity to the Canadian border. Seseri gives Cecil leave to visit her dad there, which means we’re in for a road trip. We’ve been waiting for the show to put its two most at-odds characters—Cecil and Hotaru Natsuna—in a situation where they must deal with each other for an extended period of time. Thanks to Natsuna’s international driver’s license (which she mentions on the flight to Boston, not knowing it would doom her), that happens this week. The results are delightful.

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In another odd but inspired choice, rather than drive a reliable but dull rental car (like a Chrysler 200), Natsuna and Cecil are lent/saddled with an aqua 1966 Ford Thunderbird by the Boston law firm (they also pick them up from the airport in a VW Microbus, so we assume the partners are car buffs). As a kind of modest protest to her lot, Natsuna initially bans conversation, lest she get distracted. But it’s going to be a long, long drive, and we know they’ll talk eventually. After all, if not on this trip, then when?

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We’ve come to like and appreciate Natsuna more and more as the show has progressed, and have been eager to find out more about her as a person, not just as the only character consistently disapproving of Cecil. We learn she’s traveled around Europe. When the old car breaks down, we learn she knows her way around an engine (even a vintage foreign one!). And after they pick up a hitchhiker (also a Japanese girl who wants to be a wizard barrister) we also learn about her one-sided love of her former professor. All of this really rounds out her character, both for us and for Cecil. But this isn’t a one-way thing: Natsuna’s hostility towards Cecil was always based on her outward impression of her. This week she learns why Cecil is in such a hurry.

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When Natsuna hears about the injustice Cecil’s mom received, and how Cecil gave up tv, movies, music, and friends to study for the bar, her stance softens considerably, as it should, as Natsuna is a reasonable person with a bigger heart than she lets on. Unlike last week, this was an episode that didn’t feel like it was lacking anything. If anything, it had too much: we could have done without the hasty Boston montage, or the scene at the end where the Shark lawyers just happen to show up in the diner (what the hell?). But all the Cecil-Natsuna bonding, facilitated by a run-down Thunderbird, a hitchhiker, and the long road to Canada, was very good stuff indeed.

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