Classroom of the Elite – S2 11 – Stone Cold

God, Kiyotaka sucks so much. Can’t even say “Good Morning” back to Kei. Even so, I had no idea just how deep and harmful his sudden, impulsive cutting off of communications would end up being by episode’s end. With no new tests being announced, Ryuuen strolls into Class D on a fishing expedition.

He and his crew end up following and confronting Koenji. Ryuuen’s goal is to determine if the blonde bombshell is the Class D Mastermind. You have to admit, he looks the part, and his seeming indifference and passivity to everything is the perfect cover. Of course, we know he’s way off base, but it’s still a ton of fun watching him verbally spar with Kouenji, perhaps the only student more self-involved than he is.

But hold on, here comes Arisu and her crew, who stick their noses into the confrontation. When she uses Ryuuen’s least favorite nickname “Dragon Boy” twice, he rushes her and prepares to dropkick her. It’s a testament to Arisu’s toughness and confidence in her underlings that she doesn’t flinch an inch, but lets one of those underlings block the kick.

Ryuuen may not have bagged the Mastermind, but he takes solace in knowing one less possibility is off the board. He tells Mio that he’s having a shitload of fun. His next move is to prepare bait for the Mastermind in the form of Kei, whom he knows the Mastermind protected thanks to Manabe.

Ibuki, your standard monstrous collaborator who does nothing to stop evil, instead takes part in it, sticking around as Kei is lured into a refrigerated space with no security cameras. There, Ryuuen threatens to expose her bullied past to the whole school if she doesn’t give him the name of the Mastermind.

Never has Ryuuen been more cruel and menacing than in this scene, underscored by the dramatic, theatrical lighting and intensely cold atmosphere. Like Arisu, and as we know, Kei is tougher than she looks, and refuses to give up the name, even when bound and threatened.

So Ryuuen has his underling slowly pour a bottle of water over her, and then another, then covers her head with a cloth and pours another one on. It’s essentially waterboarding, only with the added threat of hypothermia. It’s here where I throw up two big middle fingers at the show for continuing to put Kei through the ringer. This is truly sickening, to the point I needed a nice hot shower after watching this.

Worse still, we see Kiyotaka agree to hang out with his new friendly friend group to celebrate the end of their term with some karaoke. His promise to protect Kei is rendered toothless by the fact she can no longer contact him via phone. Even if somehow Kiyotaka senses something’s up, it’s way too late for him to come to her rescue, isn’t it? The damage is done, with Ryuuen dragging her deeper into the cold darkness, making a promise of his own: to utterly destroy her.

Isekai Ojisan – 04 – A Pinch Is a Chance

In one of Takafumi’s memories from grade school, he’s bullied by some boys for reading an innocent fantasy LN, only to be bailed out by Fujimiya, who may still looks like a demon to lil’ Takafumi’s eyes, but he’s genuinely moved by her support. Present-day Fujimiya remains mortified that this is how Takafumi viewed her, especially as she became more girly in middle school.

But that was then and this is now, and Fujimiya has high hopes for her newly-rekindled relationship with Takafumi. When she learns he got cash from Ojisan for his birthday which he spent on a coffee grinder and some fancy beans, she decides to send him a “gift” of her own.

This comes in the form of a photo of her in a swimsuit from middle school, which while cute, even she realizes in hindsight might’ve been a questionable choice. But hey, watching your crush’s childhood memories in which you’re a loathsome devil spawn does weird things to the mind!

That said, Takafumi couldn’t be more tactless when his first instinct is to ask Siri how to delete the photo from SM, and then he gets an alert about a sale on coffee beans and once again leaves Fujimiya with his uncle. When he almost spills his coffee, he casts an ice spell that freezes her, then melts her with flame.

The result of all this is that Fujimiya is soaked and needs to take a shower to warm up. Ojisan leaves the apartment to give her her privacy, but Takafumi enters when she’s wearing one of his shirts and nothing else. Again, after watching a younger Takafumi portray her as a monster, seeing him react to seeing her inspires her to uses this “pinch” as a “chance”, in Ojisan’s words.

Unfortunately, Takafumi proves as dense about Fujimiya’s feelings and intentions as Ojisan is about Elf. He considers it shameful that he should feel this way about looking at a “good friend”, and when Ojisan arrives on full battle alert (due to Takafumi using the wrong flag signal) Takafumi asks him to delete his memories of seeing Fujimiya. Of course, Fujimiya stops the spell, and warns Takafumi she’ll dress like this again if he wipes his memory.

When Fujimiya turns twenty, she and Takafumi and Ojisan have a modest but warm celebration drinking their preferred choice of canned alcoholic beverages and watching more of Ojisan’s misromantic adventures with Elf. Elf is astonished he was able to restore the city barrier, and also recalls when Ojisan (or “Orc Face” as she calls him) saved her from a venom dragon.

After a bit more of their usual repartee, Uncle suddenly takes her by the hand and draws her to his side as they walk through the town market. Elf is shocked by this sudden bout of lovey-dovey behavior, but she can’t hide her enjoyment of it either. When it looks like he’s ready to take her up to his room, it isn’t until he gets his door open that it’s revealed he only needed someone to lean on.

He slams the door in her face, locks said door, and falls immediately asleep. The next morning Elf shows signs she cried herself to sleep. In short, Ojisan’s an unintentional villain, and Fujimiya must do everything in her power to keep Takafumi from turning out the same way.

In the present, Ojisan demonstrates how he can in no way hold his liquor, and then offers to take Fujimiya home via flight. Ojisan, Fujimiya, and Takafumi end up flying through the air upside down, with Ojisan merging the fantasy of the game he was playing with reality, and his nephew and his friend are simply along for the ride.

The end credits are cut short by an extra segment in which Ojisan once again gives Elf the wrong idea by sucking out poison that turns out to have aphrodisiac effects on Elf. When his doting closeness gets to be too much for her, she merely socks him in the face with a swift kick. Fujimiya asks Ojisan if he still has some of that poison so she might be able to use it on Takafumi…because a pinch is a chance!

Isekai Ojisan – 03 – The Things We Do for Views

Takafumi returns home to find Fujimiya and what looks like Elf from the other world where his Uncle lived. It’s definitely an effective hook, and then the episode rewinds an hour and change to a stark reality of YouTubers in February 2018: if you didn’t meet a certain subscriber and view quota, you’d be cut off from what had been a nice little revenue stream.

Takafumi discovers that one reason their channel is struggling is Ojisan’s tendency to type elaborate but ultimately awful replies to each and every commenter, many of whom are then put off and unsubscribe. This current dilemma reminds Ojisan of when the barrier of the Sealed City fell and 1,000 beasts arrived at the walls.

Naturally, his nephew wants to see and hear about this, so Ojisan switches on the ol’ memory recorder and plays back the events of those days. Notable is how pretty much everything Elf says to him could come across as verbal harassment (rather than the tsundere flirting it is).

When Ojisan nonchalantly shatters the barrier and the beasts arrive, Elf is resolved to fight them all herself while he runs—she likes him that much. But after a serously badass weapon unsheathing sequence and blasting herself towards the walls like a missile, she ends up splatting on the newly-formed barrier, the result of Ojisan asking the spirits to repair it.

No matter; Elf doesn’t tell any of the townsfolk that he dropped the barrier to begin with, and in exchange simply asks him to buy her dinner. But Ojisan, who always interprets her words and body language the wrong way, instead leaves the city without her.

Takafumi hugs himself in despair, and this is what Fujimiya sees when she arrives, trying to make a habit of being around her old friend. The thing is, Takafumi remains disturbingly oblivious to her affections, and even leaves her alone in his apartment to take care of some random errand.

Ojisan may not have much real-world romantic experience, but he can tell Fujimiya’s a good girl and she wants to be closer to his nephew. Unfortunately, Fujimiya does not want to talk to some frumpy uncle about this, so Ojisan borrows Elf’s appearance and voice and insists he’s Takafumi’s “aunt” so they can engage in girl talk. That brings us back to the cold open.

In order to get to the bottom of why Takafumi stubbornly only thinks of Fujimiya as a friend, he taps into his memories and then visualizes them. in them, a cretinous child mercilessly beats upon a helpless young Takafumi. Fujimiya asks where she is…and then it dawns on her: she’s the cretin. Form her perspective back then they enjoyed a “bittersweet” relationship, but just like Ojisan with Elf, Takafumi saw it more as bullying and abuse.

Elf!Ojisan marvels at how his nephew even managed to recognize a grown-up Fujimiya on the street, but Takafumi says he’d never forget her, and holds up a fist for her to bump while blushing profusely. Takafumi then decides that he and Ojisan should record a video of “her” playing Guardian Heroes.

Ojisan is naturally psyched…until he sees the final product: the video doesn’t show any of the actual gameplay—just Ojisan in the form of a sexy elf girl in a long hoodie playing off-screen video games. Ojisan is shocked and appalled, but the video goes viral, with 200,000 views and counting. Takafumi celebrates the great success of his hunch, while Ojisan reverts to his normal appearance before a terrified Fujimiya. I could honestly watch this offbeat, eccentric dynamic packed with amazing reaction faces all day!

Classroom of the Elite – S2 03 – Slap in the Face

When Yukimura simply can’t watch anymore, he steps out from his hiding spot to put a stop to Shiho and her cohorts’ abuse of Kei. But if he’s expecting gratitude from Kei, he doesn’t get it, and Kiyotaka probably assumed that would be the result of getting involved. When Venus group’s test concludes early, Kiyotaka deduces that Class C is the favorite to win, and starts making some moves.

Those moves involve arranging so both Kei and Chiho’s gang meet in the bowels of the ship, and this time Chiho brings Rika, the girl she demands Kei apologize to. The girls rough Kei up some more, culminating in Chiho realizing that Kei has been traumatized by bullying, and even gets Rika to start slapping Kei silly. All of this is to get Kei to “rock bottom” so he can recruit her for his purposes.

After Chiho leaves, Kiyotaka approaches Kei, who is an absolute wreck, and twists the knife like the true piece of work he is. He tells her he knows what she truly is, and that she and Hirata were never actually dating, and she assumes he’s blackmailing her for her body or something to that extent.

Of course, we know that’s not Kiyotaka’s style, but it’s still a dark and unsettling scene between the two. Kiyotaka would argue, however, that it is all necessary to send Kei to the absolute brink so she’ll take him seriously as an ally. He shows her video of Shiho’s crimes, and offers to protect her from now on in a way the previous guys couldn’t. Because for all the wounds Kei bears—emotional and physical—he still believes she and not Suzune is the best chance of Class D uniting and rising.

Before the final discussion on the last day of the test, Kiyotaka finds Ichinose dozing on the couch, and the two talk about their mutual desire to graduate in Class A (and how she knows he knows how many points she has, but she’s not going to say anything more about that). When the discussion begins, Hamaguchi proposes that everyone should show the rest of the group their phones to reach a better outcome.

Kiyotaka knows that while Hamaguchi presents this option, Ichinose is behind it, and it fits the gambit he already prepared. One by one, Mars Group is convinced to reveal their phones until the VIP is exposed: Yukimura. We then cut to a flashback of Kiyotaka and Yukimura switching phones. Even so, Ichinose calls Kiyotaka and exposes Kiyotaka and Yukimura’s scheme.

But that’s fine, because Kiyotaka isn’t the VIP either…Kei is, and always was. Not only did he switch phones with her before switching with Yukimura, but he also used his personal points to buy the means to switch out the SIM cards, so if someone called his phone, her phone (in Yukimura’s hands) would ring. It’s a great double-switcheroo trap that Mars Group falls for…except for Ichinose, who figured it out, but didn’t stop it because of her rapport with Kiyotaka.

So Class D is the victor, right? Wrong. Class A loses the most points while Class B breaks even, but in a gut punch of an ending Class C is revealed as the ultimate winner. Ryuuen, of whom I am getting thoroughly tired, was able to learn from a Class D student that Kikyou was a VIP. He once again confronts Suzune to gloat and continue to act like a skeevy prick around her. Kiyotaka shows no emotion, but can tell that as this cruise test ends, it’s not going to be smooth sailing for Class D.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Classroom of the Elite – S2 02 – Kei the Lamprey

Unsurprisingly, Koenji makes the biggest splash of the test by apparently discovering the true VIP, resulting in Jupiter Group’s test concluding. Hirata gets a rumor that Kushida is a VIP. Horikita and Ayanokouji meet in an area of the ship heavy with lovey-dovey couples. Ryuuen proposes the other three classes ally against A, but Horikita isn’t having it.

They determine that uniting Class D is the best move they’ve got, using Kei and her “powerful sense of presence”. Kei is still recovering from her shower breakdown, calling herself a “parasite”, while Ayanokouji gets unexpectedly hugged by Kushida, who is feelingly lonely due to all being around all of the couples.

As the teachers drink in a private bar, Hoshinomiya-sensei asks Chabashira-sensei how Ayanokouji ended up the leader at the end of the Island test, but Chibashira is tight-lipped. Ayanokouji happens to be in the vicinity when Karuizawa meets with Hirata, who tells her that there are limits to what he can do to help her.

This angers Karuizawa, but Hirata tells her this is the way it’s always been since they started fake-dating. Karuizawa got a boost in popularity and a degree of protection, but Hirata won’t help her settle grudges, even as he later tells Ayanokouji he sympathizes with the perennially bullied Karuizawa.

Mars Group’s third and fourth discussions come and go without much of any progress being made, with Karuizawa hanging out with the first-years and flirting with Machida. After the fourth discussion, Karuizawa  is followed out by Shiho and her two cronies, who corner her in a hallway. Yukimura and Ayanokouji follow just in case.

When Shiho & Co. start getting nasty with a Kei who is increasingly breaking down, Ayanokouji tells Yukimura not to intervene too soon; he wants to gather as much research as he can on Kei before “tainting the experiment”, so to speak.

Two episodes in, and I must admit I’m respecting CoE more than I’m actually enjoying it. There’s definitely something clever in the works, but I can’t deny that there are some pretty dull stretches—even those possibly containing key clues. It doesn’t help that the show simply doesn’t look that good, though the soundtrack makes up for that a bit.

Love After World Domination – 09 – Become Strong, Then Fall in Love

One minute you’re alone with your girlfriend in her dorm, the next, you’re staring down her eccentric, fanatical father and taciturn yet hostile little sister. The latter, Magahara Urami, is basically the protagonist of this episode, and she’s in crisis.

This…man, who is dressed as a common Gekko foot solider, seems to have turned her invincible sister into a weak, girly softie. The main flaw with Urami’s position is that she couldn’t be more wrong, but she has to learn that the hard way.

When Fudou, who makes up the fake name Mudou, assures Desumi’s dad that she only turned down the monster promotion after careful consideration, then insists he allow Desumi to attend college, both Urami and Pops are furious that an “outsider” is interfering in family matters.

Pops even starts a fight with Fudou, and demonstrates his carefully-honed “Art of Defeat”; i.e. the most stylish way of taking a hit. Pops leaves impressed with Fudou’s devotion to a cause and will table the university discussion, and Desumi sees him off with a smile.

Urami spends the night, presumably hiding in the closet from a big sister she no longer recognizes, thanks to “Mudou” “ruining” her. Growing up, Urami’s problems with communicating and resting emo face made her an easy target for bullies, all of whom were obliterated by Desumi. It’s no surprise Urami developed a sister complex.

When the sisters visit Gekko’s HQ and Desumi receives a royal greeting befitting her rank, Urami briefly believes that the badass sister she knows is still in there…only for Desumi to scold the foot soldiers for going out of their way, and get upset they don’t notice her new (adorable) hairdo. Urami is in awe of HQ and particularly Desumi’s co-workers and superiors, but Desumi would rather go shopping with her in Harajuku.

Urami is beside herself with frustration…how could the sister she loved and idolize become thus? She storms off in a huff and sulks in a dark alley, where she’s cornered by three lunkheads who aren’t at all concerned with age limits. She’s about to clobber them, but when they call her an “emo kid” like the bullies of her past and present, she freezes up.

That’s when Desumi appears, two delectable crepes in hand, and ignores the dopes entirely. When they warn her that they’re “bad guys”, Desumi puts on her game face and ethers all three of them so easily the show doesn’t bother showing the carnage, only the aftermath. Urami may think Desumi has “gone soft”, but the fact of the matter is she’s as strong as she’s ever been.

She realizes she once told Urami that one must become strong to survive, but now that she’s older she knows that’s not enough. If you want to survive and thrive, you have to fall in love. Urami returns home wearing the hairband her sister bought her. She hated the new version of her big sister at first, but having seen that she dole out carnage and be cute at the same time, maybe this new Desumi isn’t so bad after all.

“Mudou”, on the other hand, will be the first to be purged when she rises up in Gekko.

Spy x Family – 07 – Making It Work With Less Than Ideal

“I’m sorry I’m bad at school”, a still-drowsy Anya says to Loid and Yor. “The peace of the world rests on you making amends”, she hears Loid thinking. It’s a lot of pressure for a little girl on her second day of school, but she’s resolved to apologize to Damian. The problem is, both his toadies and her her rich girl friend Becky make that almost impossible.

Reading minds clearly takes a lot out of Anya, so between hearing the inner voices of all her classmates and probably not sleeping much last night, she nods off in first period. But when Loid sees Becky working against the apology plan, he starts disguising himself as school staff to make it clear to Anya that the apology must happen, the sooner the better.

It takes Loid calling Becky away on the PA for Anya to finally get her shot, and Damian’s toadies bully her so much in their minds they make her start bawling as she apologizes. As I’d suspected, Damian has confusing new feelings about Anya, the girl who was the first to “defy” him. When she sobs during her apology, making clear she only wanted to be friends, the resulting shot to his heart is so much he has no choice but to run away.

While Loid witnesses all this unfold and concludes that the Friendship Plan may be doomed, I’d say he’s making far too quick an assessment of the situation. Sure, on the surface Damian hates her, but he actually likes her; his behavior is the result of simply not knowing what to do about it. This is 100% classic little kid (and some times bigger kid) behavior.

That said, Loid is new to this, and Twilight didn’t get where he is by taking risks or operating under less-than-ideal circumstances. But there’s so much not in his control here and the circumstances couldn’t be less ideal, so he’s trying to overcompensate. Today Damian ran away from Anya, so he has to try to get her those eight Stella. That night Loid has an intense study session with Anya, but his anxious thoughts and calculations flood into her head and overwhelm her, and she runs into her room to sulk.

Here is where Yor’s lighter touch (if only where Anya is concerned) comes in. At first Yor feels she’s being presumptuous in offering Loid advice and insisting they not be to hard on themselves. But by doing so she reminds Loid that he’s not alone in this parenting business.

He and Yor are legally husband and wife and parents to Anya. They’re in this together, through thick and thin. They need to be patient, but also confident. All parents go through this; that this one was constructed for a spy mission doesn’t change that in the slightest.

I loved how much simpler and more macabre Yor’s inner thoughts are compared to Loid’s during the study session, but I also love how Anya truly wants to do her best, which is why Loid finds her asleep at her desk. She stopped sulking and started studying all on her own.

She’s a good girl, Yor’s a good mom, and he’s a good dad for caring about all of Anya—not just how she figures into the mission. They’ll get through this…even if Yor’s brother Yuri is only now finding out Yor has a husband and daughter.

Spy x Family – 06 – Smiling Doesn’t Help at All

At the fitting for her new Eden uniform, the seamstress warns both Anya and her parents of all of the pitfalls of student and parent life. There are all of these ongoing overlapping battles—between the richer kids and less rich kids, between children of Eden alumni and non-alumni, between boarders and commuters. Oh, and the kidnappers. Anya isn’t sure she wants to go to school anymore.

But the must, as she’s the lynchpin of Operation Strix. Loid visits a secret installation beneath a photo booth where his Handler gives him the details of Strix Phase Two. Anya simply attending Eden won’t be enough for Loid to get to Desmond, whose son is sure to be an honor student, called an Imperial Scholar. Students must earn eight “Stella” merits to become one. Alternatively, earning eight “Tonitrus Bolts” or demerits will result in immediate expulsion.

With the new information that Anya must not just be an Eden student but an elite one, Loid is no doubt headed to the drugstore to purchase a couple bottles of Mylanta to deal with his stress. Meanwhile while he’s out late for work, Yor takes Anya to get her newly-completed uniform, which she then shows off to everyone in the park.

When they go to the supermarket to buy stuff to cook (Yor wants to give cooking the old Eden college try), some n’er-do-wells attempt to kidnap Anya to extort Yor for cash, thinking she’s the maid. She puts them in her place, ruining the groceries, but Anya pats her head in praise. She likes her cool, strong mama, and asks her to train her so she can be strong and cool to. Despite believing otherwise, Yor is being a good mother to Anya.

Considering the cutthroat atmosphere of Eden College the next day, I would think that basic martial arts training would be a requisite of every new student. Yor also teaches Anya some important social skills, but one kid is so nasty, she eventually cant help but punch him using what she learned from mom.

The kid who gets punched just happens to be Damian, the second son of Donovan Desmond. But if she doesn’t get off on the right foot with befriending him, at least she earns a new best friend in Becky Blackbell.

Post-punch, Henderson has no choice but to give Anya at least one Tonitrus Bolt, though the usual punishment is three. There hasn’t been a single day of actual classes and already Anya is negative-one Stella star from being an Imperial Scholar and has made an enemy of the boy she was supposed to befriend.

It’s here where I must comment that Loid really did take a gamble simply throwing Anya into the fray having nothing but a little basic combat and social training from Yor. Granted he doesn’t know Yor is a socially awkward assassin, but he knows what he is: a master spy, and thus a master of human behavior.

I get he needed that briefing from Handler, but he should have taken the lead with teaching Anya more about how to act arond others and how to properly react to adversity. Her bolt is as much his fault as hers. Still, I’m not as pessimisstic as all three families look in the photo taken at the end of orientation.

For one thing, I suspect being punched by Anya might endear her to Damian, considering she did something no one ever did. For another, Anya’s ability to read the minds of her classmates can be an enormous boon…once she learns how to use use it properly.

My Senpai is Annoying – 07 – Doing What You Love

This week is the Futaba-Natsumi friendship origin episode, and I’m here for it! They’re honestly such a wonderfully cozy pair of BFFs it didn’t matter if we didn’t witness them meet, but I’m so glad we did. Poor Futaba’s GPS is going haywire so she decides to follow someone in the same fuku…only for Natsumi to start running at top speed!

Despite Natsumi leading Futaba not to school but the arcade where she intends to play hooky, the two become unlikely but fast friends in the back row of the classroom. When it comes time to join clubs, Futaba expresses her wish to join the art club because she loves to draw.

Natsumi hates competition ever since a boy tripped her to win a relay on sports day in grade school, but Futaba, unaware that Natsumi is harboring that bad memory, tells her if she loves doing something—in this case running—she should do it, or she may regret it if she doesn’t.

It’s almost verbatim the advice Natsumi gives to Yuuta when the two encounter one another running in the evening. Yuuta likes basketball, so he should play, even if he’s not the best at it. You can’t get better if you don’t try! Meanwhile, Futaba and Takeda end up having a little mini-date of sorts when they’re tasked with saving a spot under one of the blooming cherry trees for an office after-hours function, which honestly looks like a ton of fun.

After complementing her hair color and her drawings, Futaba recalls how it was Natsumi who gave her the courage to join the art club. Futaba would draw between classes in her sketchbook, but one day a couple of bullies decided to mess with her, which…why would you mess with Futaba?! Why would you want to do anything but protect her with your life?

For Natsumi, the answer is she wouldn’t. For the crime of making her beloved Futaba cry, one of the bullies gets a devastating punch to the face. She then tells the boys that it doesn’t matter if she “sucks” at drawing; she’s doing what she likes to do, so lay the fuck off!

The boys wisely learn the error of their ways, and their apology isn’t forced or obligatory, as he actually explains why what he did was wrong and regretted doing it. He also realized that both they and Futaba are in the same boat, in their case joining the baseball club despite being crap at it because they like baseball, dammit!

As for Natsumi, she doesn’t get in trouble because the boys went to the teacher to explain that they were in the wrong. Futaba thanks Natsumi by telling her they should call each other by their first names only. With that, a legendary friendship was forged, which continues into their adult lives now that they both live in Tokyo.

Takeda enjoys Futaba telling the story as much as Futaba clearly enjoys telling it, as her eye shimmer with love as she described how her friend supported her in pursuing her passion. We barely set one foot in the office this week, and that’s okay, because it was simply lovely to learn more about Futaba and Natsumi. As for Futaba’s senpai, it’s pretty clear he’s not “annoying” as the show’s title says, but I guess My Senpai is Someone Who I Like Hanging Out With and Talking To would be a bit too long…

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 16 – Son, I Am Disappoint

After a beautiful sequence showing the quartet journeying by horse and wagon, Rudy, Eris, Ruijerd and Geese arrive at Millishion, capital of the Holy Country of Millis. And it’s quite a city; between the white stone of the buildings and the very religious sounding leitmotif, I was reminded of the Holy City of Aquaria from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time.

Once there, Rudy proposes the three take a day off. Eris is off to hunt goblins, Ruijerd will tag along just in case she’s in over her head, and Rudy wants to produce more Ruijerd statuettes for sale in the human city, as well as write his first letter to his family in over a year and a half. But Dead End’s mandate to save any and all children in need results in him running into a group of kidnappers led by none other than his dad, Paul.

Paul is still a formidable opponent, despite being drunk and desperate. This reunion of father and son is not a happy one, and only gets worse when Rudy regales the entire tavern with the story of his adventures since being teleported to the Demon Continent, adding enough flourish to make it sound like he was having fun with his cute rich girl…when both he and Paul know he could have been doing so much more.

The thing is, Rudy, and we as extension, thought he was doing everything he could with the cards he’d been dealt; keep Eris safe and get her home. But Paul knows the power his son possesses, and doesn’t understand why Rudy didn’t try reaching out sooner (indeed, he never ends up writing that belated letter). As Rudy says, it just never occurred to him all this time that anyone other than him and Eris were teleported.

Being berated by Paul throws Rudy into a rage, and he starts beating up on his father until his little sister Norn, who doesn’t remember him, bravely puts herself between them. It turns out the entire tavern is occupied by a search-and-rescue party dedicated to finding the missing people of Buena Village, including Rudy’s mom, Lilia, and Aisha. The only bully here…is Rudy.

In light of all this, Rudy finds himself ostracized by the entire place, and there’s nothing to do but stalk away. He tries to put a brave, optimistic face on things (and also, ahem, whacks off) but only ends up vomiting as the weight of everything his father said—everything he overlooked all this time washes over him. When Eris and Ruijerd return and see what a mess he is, and he tells them why, Eris wants to murder Paul.

But Ruijerd tells her to comfort Rudy instead. And even though it’s not something she says she’s very good at, all Rudy really needs is a hug, so when Eris gives him one (after some adorable hesitation), he immediately cheers up. He remembers he’s not all alone, and he has a family in her and Ruijerd.

Can he make amends with his father and join him in locating the rest of his other family?  Considering everything he and his party of three have been through and overcome thus far, I’m not about to bet against them now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

Like Sayu, I was dreading the day someone from her family finally found her and forced her to come home…but that isn’t what happens. It turns out Issa is just as decent and kind a person as Yoshida, and doesn’t jump to conclusions even when Yoshida and Sayu greet him at the door in their PJs.

Instead, he’s the latest in a long line of refreshingly reasonable, level-headed human beings that populate Higehiro and make it feel more real. He’s not simply doing their mother’s bidding; he wanted to be the one who found Sayu, because he loves her and is worried about her.

Issa is greatly relieved Sayu managed to find a good soul who took her in without asking for anything inappropriate, and takes both of them at their word when they say nothing’s happened. As a high-achieving corporate type, I imagine Issa trusts his instincts when it comes to reading people.

But that’s not all: Issa can also tell, even if Sayu can’t, that she’s taken some important steps forward as a person. He notes how she’s more able to speak her mind, as she explains why she needs a few more days to think about things. He’s proud and caring n a way only a big brother can be, and grants her one more week.

I have to say, I never imagined in a million years that Issa would be such a good guy, especially considering the uncomfortable way the series has handled the bastard who took her in for sex and ended up her co-worker. But it’s not the show’s fault I automatically expect the worst…it’s because men, and especially anime men, are so often just that…the worst.

Of course, women are the worst too, as we learn when Sayu invites Asami over and sits her and Yoshida down to finally tell them about everything that’s happened that led her to run away. In effect, she’s unloading all of the burdens she’s carried before two friends who are all too happy to help share that load. Her first step in getting ready to go back is telling the people important to her about where she came from.

Sayu and her mother never got along. Her mother put all of her hopes and aspirations into her firstborn son Issa, and never had a kind word for Sayu. Because she never received love, Sayu didn’t bother putting any effort into anything, be it academics or socializing. She was alone, emanated a “stay away” aura, and came to prefer it that way.

But along came another outcast in Yuuko, for whom Sayu’s repelling aura had the opposite effect. Yuuko always told Sayu she was pretty and cool—as pretty and cool as Yuuko claimed not to be—and the two became fast, close friends. But Sayu’s looks and unimpeachable “goodness” kept the other girls from bullying her directly when she turned down a guy one of them liked, so they started bullying Yuuko instead.

Yuuko always said Sayu looked best when she was smiling and happy. But as the bullying intensified and Sayu dug in her heels, determined to stand beside Yuuko and fight for her, she stopped smiling and laughing, and was always depressed, because she felt responsible for her friend’s suffering and felt powerless to stop it.

Yuuko, however, felt differently. When Sayu told her she’d support her and fight for her against the bullying, it hurt Yuuko more than anything, as she believed she was ruining Sayu’s happiness by deigning to become friends with her in the first place.

So one day, Sayu found Yuuko standing on the wrong side of the balcony, waiting for her. Yuuko told her what happened was her fault, but it would be better if she were no longer in her life. Before leaping to her death, Yuuko asked Sayu to keep smiling, obviously in no mental state to realize how hard that would be if she killed herself.

Witnessing her first and only friend commit suicide for her sake would have been plenty of trauma for any teenager or adult to bear, but that wassn’t the end of Sayu’s suffering. As the Ogiwara household became besieged with press and stories and rumors of the true cause of Yuuko’s death, her mother did all the exact wrong things, only exacerbating Sayu’s despair.

Rather than support her daughter and help her grief, she blamed her for their predicament, and even went so far as to ask, seriously, if Sayu really did kill Yuuko. That despicable question is the last straw for Sayu, and you really can’t blame her for not wanting to spend one more second inside that house with that despicable woman. Instead, it’s Issa who offers Sayu a shoulder to cry on as she prepares to run away on foot.

Demonstrating he was just as empathetic and kind back then as he is in the present, he actually helps his sister get the distance and time she needs, giving her $3000 for a decent hotel and food for two weeks, if she promises to call him if she ever gets into trouble. If there’s a right way to run away, this was it: acknowledging and respecting what Sayu needed, but building checks into the arrangement.

But even with those measures in place, Issa would still need Sayu to actualy call him if she got in trouble, and she never does that. As she burns through her cash, she continues to be crushed by isolation and self-loathing, with no one there to help pull her out of her downward spiral. Issa’s mistake wasn’t getting Sayu away from their mom, it was sending Sayu away all by herself when she was in no condition to be entirely alone.

The episode includes a scene we previously saw only a flash of, in which Sayu masturbates and looks down at her hand afterwards. As this happens before she first sleeps with a man, I’m not sure why such a graphic scene was included, except to underscore that there was really not much for Sayu to do during this time but sleep, eat, and pleasure herself, and none of it was helping.

When Issa calls Sayu to check on her, her battery dies, and she tosses her phone out, believing in that moment that his kindness was merely pity she didn’t want or deserve. She wanders the streets, bumps into a man, and when she explains her situation he offers her a place to stay. He eventually asks for sex in return, and Sayu gives in, though doesn’t even remember the name of her first. She then went from guy to guy, trading sex for shelter, until ending up on Yoshida’s doorstep. The rest, we know.

The first to speak after her tale of woe is Asami, who gives Sayu the affection she needs and tells her just how hard she hung in there all this time. Having gotten all of this out, Sayu breaks down, having a much-needed cathartic cry. Once she’s calmed down and in bed, Asami asks Yoshida on the balcony what he’s going to do about her.

Yoshida says it’s up to Sayu’s family to figure this out and it’s not his place to interfere. Asami points out that’s not what she asked, idiot, and again asks: what does he want to do? He may say he’s a stranger, but he’s not; he and Asami are as much family to Sayu as Issa, and certainly more than Sayu’s mom.

What they want matters too, especially if it aligns with what Sayu herself wants. But first those things must be said, just as the things Sayu carried needed to be said to fully understand where she’s been, and determine what she should do. It’s not just Sayu who needs to think about things in the week she has left.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 06 – It’s Nothing

While things seemed to be okay with Team Dynazenon, there were still a number of indicators it might not remain that way for long. The first is Yume learning her sister may not have died in a freak accident, but committed suicide after being bullied by her friends. Yomogi is there for her, but simply doesn’t have the emotional tools to properly help her…plus he’s harboring a crush on her.

Having lost four battles in a row, the Eugenicists are starting to consider other options. Juuga is starting to think killing Gauma’s co-pilots may be a viable one, Onija has been all for killing from the start, and Mujina will be fine with whatever. Shizumu, whom you could argue has spent the most time with their enemies at school, doesn’t see the rush; he wants to meet more kaiju.

Koyomi has another quasi-date with Inamoto, but is crestfallen when she also invites her husband, who for good measure gets his name wrong despite his wife “always” talking about him. It’s awkward, and Koyomi is not into it. He’s drunk before the husband arrives due to learning more from Yume about her sister’s death. Could his and Inamoto’s little secret have something to do with that?

Even Chise can’t escape the blues this week, as thanks to Inamoto Koyomi is late for…whatever it is they do, which I’m assuming is nothing. But the bottom line is she’s lonely. Koyomi forgets his umbrella and encounters Mujina while waiting out the rain. They end up having a drink together (wine for her, water for him, and she pays).

Koyomi starts ranting bitterly about his issues with Inamoto, but Mujina truthfully declares she can’t possibly know what he’s on about, because she doesn’t really know him. She doesn’t even know herself, and declares that “unlike other people” she has nothing she wants to do. Koyomi can relate to that, and Mujina suggests that maybe they’re the same. But eventually Koyomi succumbs to the night’s imbibing, and when Mujina spots his Dyna Striker unprotected, she decides to nab it.

As Chise continues to wait for Koyomi and Yomogi has another awkward dinner with his mom and her boyfriend, Yume finally gets access to the other private videos still online, which document pranks played on Kano, including stealing her ankh puzzle. From the almost creepy off-camera voices and snickering to the mocking graphics and sound effects, it’s clear the videos could be construed as a campaign of bullying, though whether it led to Kano’s suicide is not clear.

The next day, Yume, already clearly down in the dumps from watching those awful videos, has to witness two of Yomogi’s friends flirting with and glomming on him. When Yomogi approaches her later that day, unaware she was watching before, she gives him the cold shoulder, saying her problems have “nothing to do” with him. Ouch…

Koyomi, with Chise in tow as emotional support, informs Gauma that he lost Dyna Striker while drunk, though he eventually remembers that Mujina stole it. Gauma uses his Diver to track Striker, and Koyomi and Chise accompany him to the “enemy base.” At that base—which is just an abandoned warehouse—the Eugenicists are again deadlocked when it comes to what to do with the Striker Mujina stole on a whim.

Onija wants to fuck shit up with it, Juuga wants to use it to negotiate with Gauma, Shizumu wants to give it back. Mujina doesn’t care, as long as she doesn’t have to decide, eventually regretting even stealing the damn thing. It’s clear that the four Eugenicists represent four distinct personalities: Juuga is analytical and pragmatic, Shizumu peaceable and principled, Onija aggressive and rash, and Mujina passive and indifferent.

As they quarrel over what to do, they are ambushed by Koyomi following Gauma’s order to create a diversion by “doing something crazy”—in this case throwing his umbrella through a window, then pouncing on Mujina and forcing her to the ground (further irking Chise). Striker flies out of her hand, Gauma picks it up and activates it. But in his haste to get rid of the Eugenicists once and for all, he compromises the warehouse, which collapses and allows the enemy to flee.

Back at school, Yume continues to watch the videos and Yomogi continues to struggle with how to reach out to her. Shizumu ends up coming up to the rooftop first to talk to her, saying he won’t pry, but getting Yume to admit she wishes “life were easier.” Shizumu tells Yume he thinks she’s fine just as she is, and when Yume again says it’s not that simple, he says, actually, it is. Yomogi is headed up to the roof when he encounters Shizumu headed back down without speaking to him.

Before Yomogi can say much of anything to Yume, there’s a fresh Kaiju Alert…at the absolute worst time for the Dyna co-pilots. Onija initially cannot use Instance Domination on this new kaiju, but they soon learn that it requires two of them to operate. Mujina is chosed to join Onija, and as soon as the kaiju powers up, it’s like a switch flipped in her head…she’s suddenly into something.

Meanwhile, the Dyna co-pilots assemble, and even Gauma can tell everyone is depressed, but all they say, in unison, is “it’s nothing.” Then they go through with half-hearted and out-of-sync callouts as they transform into Combine Dragon. It’s another excellent twist on the familiar excited callout method previously tweaked when Yomogi was sick.

From the get-go, you know this new dual-pilot kaiju is a different breed from Dynazenon’s past opponents. For one thing, it’s a whole lot more destructive, and has a number of terrifying, city-leveling weapons at its disposal. As Dynazenon charges it, Onija notes that Mujina has become a completely different person, shouting for the enemy to “bring it on!”.

But with snapshots of what’s troubling everyone flashing by in everyone’s heads—Inamoto’s husband for Koyomi, Kano’s prank videos for Yume, Yume’s sudden coldness and Shizumu for Yomogi—only Gauma has his heart in this battle, and that’s not nearly enough. The other three aren’t bringing anything to the table. It’s not just that this new kaiju is the most powerful yet…but that Dynazenon’s power is severely lacking.

Mujina takes full advantage by delivering a beatdown. Even when they get off a Saber attack and transform into Dyna Rex—previously the first sign they were about to defeat the kaiju—this time that doesn’t work either, and if there’s a more new powerful Dyna form to take, they’re in no shape to take it. Heck, even if Chise swapped out with someone, she’s pissed at Koyomi, and so would only contribute to the dysfunction.

Our down-in-the-dumps Dyna-pilots are only saved by the sudden appearance of a third giant combatant who flies in from a red flash high in the sky, right between the other two. My first thought was it was Gridman, but the details don’t match: this mecha has horns, fangs, and an unfamiliar paint job.

I’m reminded (thanks, ruicarlov) that this guy bears quite a strong resemblance to Gridknight, the Gridman clone Anti transforms into late in that series, but considering the true nature of the world of that series, is it really? All I can do for now is wait until next week to find out who this really is, whose side they’re on, and whether their arrival was…triggered by the Dyna-pilots falling apart.

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