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.

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 02 – Vampire’s Kissu

This second outing’s segments add more nuance, context, and even turnabout to what was largely a one-sided, antagonistic first episode. For one thing, Nagatoro doesn’t make her senpai cry once! Still, in the stinger, she upsets his zen-like art room calm by hula-hooping in, a veritable Tazmanian Devil of energy.

Nagatoro playfully invites him to find the right moment to jump into the hoop with her, but when he actually tries to do so, ends up accidentally catching a glimpse of her underwear. It showed that she’s not always certain or prepared for how her senpai will respond to her teasing…which is clearly part of the fun for her.

When Naoto buys the newest issue of Big Boob Vampires, Nagatoro catches him making a lewd face. I’m not sure what Naoto was thinking even bringing such a book to school, let alone whipping it out in a room Nagatoro frequents, but after a physical stalemate she embarrasses him with dirty talk and snatches it away.

But here’s the twist: while BBV definitely has some pervy bits, it turns out she genuinely loves vampire stuff, and agrees with him that it’s pretty well written! This builds on her harsh but constructive criticism of senpai’s own manga, but also confirms the two have a shared interest.

When the electricity of the school goes out all too conveniently, a tomato juice-sipping Nagatoro starts to ponder what it would be like to be a vampire, showing Naoto her larger-than-average canines and insisting he let her bite his neck. When she mounts him, he says others might get the wrong idea about “things and stuff”, but it’s his post-yakisoba garlic breath that gets her off him.

Within seconds, she pounces on him again, but awkwardly, and her hand lands right on his crotch. For once, Nagatoro is precisely as flustered as Naoto, as she definitely didn’t mean to put her hand there. But she makes lemonade with crotch-grabbing lemons by congratulating Senpai: he got “accidentally lucky”, just like the MC of BBV!

On their walk home (during another lovely sunset) Nagatoro slowly lurks and stews behind Naoto, asks if it was the first time he was “touched”…as it was most likely the first time she touched. She gets in position to grab him again, only to go for his ribs before bidding him goodbye.

As he tries to read the vampire manga at home, his real-life interactions with Nagatoro that day intrude upon his thoughts. She may not have actually bitten his neck or drank his blood, but she’s gotten under his skin for sure…as if he were in thrall to a vampire.

The next day, Nagatoro interrupts his drawing session to play a game to determine if they can guess the precise location of one another’s nipples. There’s a funny cutaway to her in traditional archer’s garb hitting two bullseyes, followed by swirling her fingers around his nipples.

She doesn’t expect Naoto to even try to do the same to her, but he does agree to try, and the closer he gets to her, the more nervous she gets, until she gets a text alert and runs out of there. Naoto can’t see her face as she leaves, but she’s clearly flustered again; her tomfoolery getting her in over her head once more.

The final segment represents the first time since Nagatoro and her three friends were introduced that Naoto was observing her without her being aware, meaning he gets to see a different side of her. This time, she arrives at the same family restaurant he’s working on his manga, joined by one of her girlfriends and two guys. It’s clear her friend is trying to set her up with one or both of them.

Naoto stays hidden, and watches with relish, expecting Nagatoro to tear both guys a new one. But to his shock, she doesn’t tease either of them; rather, she firmly puts each of them in their place: the first guy for being a pretentious musician, and the second guy for bringing up groping a girl’s boobs when they’ve just met.

Nagatoro’s friend is disappointed she scared them off, but as Nagatoro says, “it’s just that those guys are boring.” Meaning she saw no point in messing with them. You could say that just as Naoto is in her thrall, when it comes to having fun with a boy, no one but her thrall will do.

As he walks home, bathed in gorgeous purple and pink light, Nagatoro ponders what looks to be a very distinct possibility Nagatoro toys with no one but him. Right on cue, Nagatoro appears and slaps him on the back, asking what’s up. Thankfully, she never noticed he was at the family restaurant. I wouldn’t have particularly liked that, since there would’ve been no way to tell if she’d adjusted her behavior knowing he was watching.

Instead, Naoto got the real unvarnished Nagatoro. She begins by teasing him for his unique and “creepy” silhouette, then goes on calling him “squiggly”. It seems like he’s about to ask her why she only toys with him, but decides not to, and she just calls him gross over and over as he denies it and tells her to stop.

I thought this was an improvement on the first episode, as some of Nagatoro’s pranks backfire, while she inadvertently demonstrated that the only guy she seems to pay any attention to is him. It may rarely be the kind of attention he wants, but there’s no doubt that their time together is never dull.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 2 “Senpai” Count: 43
Total: 94

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 01 (First Impressions) – Not Just for the Fun of It

This is going to be one of those shows most viewers will either hate with a steaming passion from the moment the titular Nagatoro first speaks, or follow with a kind of morbid curiosity about just how much teasing, taunting, and straight-up abuse our MC Hachiouji Naoto is ready, willing, and able to endure before he snaps and…asks her out!

Nagatoro’s way with Naoto can be very stressful at times, even for someone who wasn’t bullied as a youth. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just not a pleasant time for some people, and would totally understand if they want to wash their hands of this show after its first outing made clear what it’s going to be about.

All that said, I came away from Nagatoro thoroughly entertained, and I think a lot of that has to do with tuning into its very particular wavelength. It certainly helps that Uesaka Sumire is so good in voicing Nagatoro’s role, and the visuals are gorgeous and sometimes downright stunning. You have to buy into the idea that for as horrible as she is for much of this episode, this is all really Nagatoro’s way of engaging—and flirting—with Naoto.

Nagatoro is first introduced as one of four faceless gyaru-esque types loudly carrying on in the library, where none of the shyer people around them have the guts to tell them to shut up or leave. Naoto is intimidated by their mere presence on the opposite end of the room, thinking he’s never going to have anything to do with “that species”.

When one of the girls picks up a manga drawing he dropped, Nagatoro seems more interested than the others, and stays behind while they go hang out elsewhere. This is key, as no one else is around during all of the teasing that ensues when she has a flustered Naoto reenact the scene from his manga with her. That’s not an accident; I think she likes it that way.

Nagatoro may be ridiculously irritating and invasive and almost utterly contemptuous of personal boundaries, but she is this way to Naoto and no one else, and with no one else around. It’s the same in the art club, when she makes sure they’re alone before teasing him by offering to be a nude model.

I daresay Nagatoro gets off on dominating the year-older Naoto. Her face does a lot of things throughout the episode, but one thing that stands out is that she’s often blushing just as much if not more than he is while she’s engaged in her teasing. When he’s knocked backwards when she unbuttons her top, she blushes. When she relents and agrees to draw her normally (with her clothes on) she blushes.

She’s loving every minute of this, and seems to be fueled by Naoto’s passivity and submissiveness. Her criticism of his manga and his portrait of her is actually pretty constructive when you think about it, as her goal seems to be to get him to either draw a manga with a character more like him or to become more like his character. She also wants him to draw her better, which means she wants him to draw her again. She was, after all, the first girl he ever looked at so closely.

When Nagatoro makes Naoto cry in the library and she offers him a handkerchief, it almost feels like rubbing salt in the wound. But then when she makes him cry again—after she physically overpowers him and says he’s “so weak”—her demeanor softens considerably and she apologizes while gently drying his eyes, admitting she “had to” mess with him again.

More like she couldn’t resist, because she gets so much pleasure out of riling him up…and also out of drying his eyes. It’s like she’s breaking him down so she can build him back up. In any case, it’s a very cute and tender moment when she realizes she might’ve gone too far there.

That said, Nagatoro continues to pester Naoto as he leaves school, and they apparently share a route home. It’s here whre Nagatoro may actually be hiding a genuine request to go out with her behind a layer of teasing. Sure, even if Naoto straightened up and said “yes”, she’d laugh it off as a joke, but the simple fact that Nagatoro won’t leave him and only him alone means there’s something there.

When she accidentally pushes him into the river (due to some creative physics on the part of the episode) and he comes out soaking but still not letting her have it, she remarks how he never seems to get angry. The thing is, Naoto is used to bullying and used to dealing with it by looking away and closing his mind. Because of that, he doesn’t remember the faces of his previous bullies.

When prompted, he tells Nagatoro that she ticks him off and gets on his nerves, but “he doesn’t hate it that much…talking with [her] and stuff”. Having called her simply “miss” throughout their interactions, Nagatoro finally gets him to ask her for her name, and for good measure, she writes it on his chest with her finger, never passing up a chance to get a rise out of him.

The episode ends with her trademark devilish smirk, but also flushed cheeks as she says “Let’s get to know each other, Senpai.” I’m willing to give Nagatoro the benefit of the doubt because Naoto is, and has dealt with worse treatment before, and to him Nagatoro simply feels different. Perhaps it feels less like a bully and victim, and more like a dom/sub or top/bottom relationship? And it also feels safer because so far all of the humiliation she’s brought upon him has been private?

I doubt at this point that Naoto perceives that Nagatoro harbors genuine attraction to him precisely because he lets her drive him to tears, but as he said, he doesn’t entirely hate it that much. Will the D/s dynamic continue, or will Naoto start to try to assert himself more as he grows more comfortable around her? I’m eager to see where this goes. Your mileage may well vary considerably.

Episode 1 “Senpai” Count: 51

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 03 – Childhood Friend

Thanks to Roxy, Rudy is no longer a shut-in, which means he can now freely explore the boundless natural beauty beyond the Greyrat residence. Paul tells his son that a man’s strength isn’t for pushing people around, but protecting and befriending the weak—and if some girls are impressed in the process, it’s all gravy.

It’s the first of several moments Paul talks to his son as if he were much older, even though he tells him he worries about the ways he doesn’t act like the kid he is. This only makes sense: Rudy is Paul’s first kid, while Rudy’s emotional and social development was profoundly stunted by bullying and harassment. They both have plenty to teach each other.

As for making friends, the first three kids his age Rudy meets are bullying a weaker boy, and uses his water magic to disinterest them off. He learns they were picking on the boy for having green hair and thus resembling the hated Superd. In reality, he’s the son of a human and half-elf; the green hair is just a harmless genetic trait.

At first glance it’s clear to Rudy that Sylph (delicately voiced by Kayano Ai) is a drop-dead gorgeous bishounen. Having acted on his father’s advice to be a friend to the weak, his decision is also routed in his baser desire to meet hot babes, who will surely flock to this prettyboy. Sylph is delighted to have a friend, as Rudy is his first as well. They agree to meet up soon so he can teach him how to use the magic that got rid of the bullies.

But Rudy comes home late to find an angry Paul at the front door. He heard from the mother of one of the bullies that Rudy punched him. Rudy tries to explain the way an adult would to another, but Paul doesn’t want to hear excuses. When Rudy is insolent, he’s slapped, but instead of crying, Rudy becomes even more adult and logical.

He tells Paul how he’s worked hard to earn his father’s trust, and had hoped that would have in turn earned him the chance to explain his actions. He then assures Paul that next time he sees three boys picking on another, he’ll either ignore it or join in, as befits the “Greyrat Family Way.” Paul, knowing he’s been rhetorically beaten, apologizes and asks Rudy to tell him what happened.

Like I said, Paul is as new to being a dad as Rudy is to being a kid in this world. Both are going to make mistakes. What’s so wonderful about the exchange here is that virtually equal time is given to their respective analyses and growth as a father and a son. Paul thought he needed to be hard on a son who is already a saint-level mage, even though part of him was glad he finally did something childish.

Paul knows he wasn’t practicing what he preached and furthermore, Rudy was fully capable of exposing that hypocrisy. That said, their “fight” expand beyond the night, as Paul is contrite and reflects not only upon how he’ll parent going forward, but whether his own father felt the things he’s feeling. That he does this while nestling his head in Zenith’s shoulders also underscores that he’s not walking this path of parenthood alone.

Six months pass, and it’s summertime. Rudy and Sylph are still targeted by the bullies, but Rudy fights back every time. He gets the distinct impression that one of the bullies’ moms is using her son as an excuse to see Paul, whom she fancies. Rudy has also been training Sylph in magic, and he turns out to be an excellent student.

When Sylph asks Rudy to teach him how to cast a spell without incantation, Rudy wonders if, like the public myth about set mana levels, it’s easier to do than people let on. As someone in a new world, Rudy wants to be special in at least one or two things, but either it is indeed relatively easy to do incantation-less casting, or Sylph is pretty special himself.

The moment he pulls it off, Sylph practically blooms with joy, dancing and spinning with the water he conjured, then running as fast as his fair legs can carry him through golden fields. Rudy can only keep up and share in the pure, unadulterated joy. As they lie together in the reeds, catching their breath, Rudy reiterates how goddamn pretty Sylph is.

Then a pop-up storm starts to drench them, and they make haste for shelter at Rudy’s house. Rudy leads Sylph to the bath that Lilia already prepared, strips down to his birthday suit, and sets to work stripping an extremely reluctant Sylph down as well, urging him not to be bashful—they’re both boys!

Only…they’re not. As was fairly evident from the start, Sylph is a girl, and was never able to get out her full name: Sylphiette. For once, Rudy isn’t turned on by a naked girl. In fact, he feels awful, as well as stupid for not realizing sooner. As he bathes with his dad, Paul makes sure that even as his son starts getting more interested in girls that kind of thing, he needs to listen and heed them when they say “no”.

Again, Paul is glad his son is acting like the kid he appears to be—and emotionally, still is—in this situation. He knows his son will “make good use” of his failure, only to watch Rudy “apologize” by saying he honestly thought she was a boy the whole six months they’ve hung out, causing her to cry even more. At that, Paul wonders if his son is dumber than he thought!

A day or a few pass, Rudy can’t concentrate on sparring with Paul, and Paul knows exactly why. What he doesn’t know is that the 30-year-old in Rudy is similarly depressed about having seemingly pushed away the lovely childhood friend was hoping to meet someday. Rudy showed his whole ass (literally!), Paul is certain they’ll make up. He assures Rudy that women love men’s strengths and weaknesses, and showing your vulnerable side can help mend fences.

His dad later admits he’s getting into some pretty advanced romantic advice for his still-very-young son, but it’s all good advice, from someone who is clearly a good man who, while hella strong, understands his own weaknesses and flaws, be it as a father, a husband, or a man.

Sylphiette shows up right after Rudy and Paul talk, and Rudy approaches her weary and contrite. He tries a dating sim line about “missing her beauty”, all while on the verge of tears, fearing permanent rejection. Instead, Sylphiette tenderly takes his hands in hers, tells him she “doesn’t hate him or anything”, and asks him to just “act normal,” giving him a pat on the head for good measure.

That she’s forgiven him so easily baffles Rudy, but he’s also obviously relieved beyond belief. He admits to not knowing how to get along with her, even though that’s what he’s been doing the last six months. His adult brain looks outward into the future when he’s a man in need of a good woman, but for now, the gender of the first friend his age shouldn’t matter. They’re still young, and have all the time in the world.

Rudy and Sylphiette will learn together how to continue get along with each other. There will be times they’ll make each other angry, get into fights, and maybe not talk or want to look in each other’ faces. But they’ll also run through golden fields together, laughing, playing, doing magic, and simply reveling in each other’s proximity. They’ll falter and forgive together—that’s what friendship is all about.

P.S. Read Crow’s write-up here!

Jujutsu Kaisen – 11 – Let the Hate Flow

Nanami has no intention of working further “overtime” than he needs to, so he executes the attack that has the best chance of disabling Mahito and then retreats when he has the upper hand. He does this by basically removing the limiter to his cursed energy and then depositing it into a wall, which crumbles atop Mahito after his right foot is sliced off.

Nanami recognizes that Mahito is a threat that requires more than just his abilities to contend with; Gojou, who doesn’t appear this week, would seem to have been proven right that the old fogeys in charge of sorcery have been caught flat-footed. For now, a lightly wounded Nanami calls for Ijichi to come pick him up.

It’s then that he learns Yuuji isn’t with Ijichi, but went off to talk to Yoshino Junpei. Unable to reach Ijichi for further instructions, Yuuji simply swings from the hip, asking Yoshino if he has any other info about the theater incident. The two start immediately bond over their love of movies, then Yoshino’s mom passes by and invites Yuuji to dinner.

For one lovely evening, Yuuji and Yoshino are friends, joking around about movies while Yoshino’s mom joins in the fun but drinks too much beer and falls asleep at the table. Yoshino asks if Yuuji is a Jujutsu sorcerer, and if he’s ever killed anyone.

Yuuji has a very eloquent reason for not wanting to ever kill: if it ever becomes an option for him, it will be too easy for it to turn into the only option, clouding the value of life and tainting his soul in the process. Alas, Yoshino’s mom wakes up to find one of Sukuna’s fingers on the table, and is then visited and then killed by a cursed spirit.

That spirit may well have been human once, and the creation of Mahito. Later he and Getou admit they placed the finger there to lure the curse, as they never intended for Yoshino to be anything other than a lure with which to bait Yuuji. Yoshino suspects one of his bullies to be responsible for killing his mom, and so lets Mahito drops a cursed veil over the school.

Dressed in black that mourns both his mom and his old life, Yoshino steps around all the other students who are passed out to get to his long-time tormentor, then lifts him into the air with cursed energy and starts beating and torturing him right back. Yuuji arrives in time to witness Yoshino’s apparent heel-turn. Everything is going according to Getou’s plan: forcing Yuuji to draw on his pact with Sukuna in order to stop Yoshino.

Just like that, I’ve only got one more episode of JK’s Fall cour. This week’s omake reinforces that there are currently two shows running in parallel, but we’re only privy to Yuuji’s show while Nobara and Megumi’s training proceeds off-camera. I imagine this Yoshino situation will reach some kind of conclusion in the Fall cour’s twelfth and final episode, and only after that will Yuuji reunite with the others.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jujutsu Kaisen – 10 – Working Overtime

It’s pretty bold to spend the first three episodes of your anime introducing your core trio, only for them to be together in part of just one episode, then keep them separated for the next six episodes, and likely more. It’s a risk a two-cour series can afford to take, and while part of me is miffed by the withheld gratification of watching the trio reunite at last, I can’t say I dislike what the show is doing in the meantime.

To live a day in Yoshino Junpei’s shoes, you have to take a look at the whole Jujutsu sorcery profession and say to yourself “So what?” He encounters cursed creatures just as fearsome as the sorcerers, only his are fully human. It’s what makes him such a good fit for Mahito’s mentorship: Mahito is among those cursed spirits who believe his kind to be the true humans, because at least they’re honest.

Human monsters like Yoshino’s peers who disguise themselves as high school students doesn’t fly for Mahito, who makes both study and sport of disfiguring the bodies that surround their souls. He’s made one human two stories tall, while another fits in the palm of Yoshino’s hand. But again, Mahito’s experiments are no sweat for the already horrror-attuned Yoshino.

When Yuuji and Ijichi track down Yoshino, the kid has just been given sanction by Mahito to kill someone he hates as if he were eating because he was hungry; life is meaningless, so you might as well do what you want. This is another form of the fundamental “honesty” Mahito and the other cursed spirits believe makes them more human than humans.

One of Yoshino’s teachers also tracks him down, and scolds him for not attending the funerals of his tormentors. This teacher saw Yoshino being bullied by those same three students, but seemingly chose to see it as four friends just messing around. For this, Yoshino is on the cusp of killing him as Mahito gave him leave to do, but Yuuji interrupts, using the low-level curse to test whether Yoshino can see and fight curses.

Meanwhile, Nanami encounters Mahito in the sewers and the two face off. The former severs the latter’s wrist with his weak-spot technique, but Mahito quickly heals by using his soul to maintain the original shape of his body. Mahito’s “Idle Transformation” is a bad matchup for Nanami, who relies on his technique to create debilitating wounds that last.

It appears that Yoshino can see the curse (which tracks, since he can also see Mahito), but the teacher doesn’t think Yuuji can possibly have anything to say to Yoshino that’s more important than what he’s saying. So Yuuji steals the teacher’s pants and runs off them. The teacher gives chase, but Yuuji is fast enough to loop around back to Yoshino.

Yoshino is willing and even intrigued to have a chat with Yuuji, who intrinsically sensed that Yoshino hated the teacher he was talking to. I’m still holding out hope Yuuji can save this kid before he goes too far down the cursed rabbit hole with Mahito, whom I can’t imagine truly has Yoshino’s best interests at heart.

As for Mahito, he starts getting confident that if he simply makes physical contact with Nanami enough, he’ll eventually be able to control his soul and transform him into one of this living sculptures. He also uses disfigured humans as weapons, extending the battle.

But lest we forget, Nanami is a former salaryman, and thus religiously sticks to the 10-to-6 business day model. Once his watch hits six, he goes into “overtime”, which means the kid gloves come off. The next stage of their battle should be pretty cool—as all battles in this show have been so far.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jujutsu Kaisen – 09 – The Accumulation of Little Despairs

Yoshino Junpei is the victim of bullying by three thuggish guys, egged on by one girl who they think will let them bang her if they sufficiently impress her with their casual brutality. Yoshino starts skipping school and seeks refuge at the movies, but the bullies are there too, making a big ‘ol racket.

While Yoshino is too mild-mannered (not to mention just plain scared) to confront them, Mahito has no qualms about teaching them manners by disfiguring their faces to death. Earlier Yoshino said he probably wouldn’t push a button that killed everyone he hated, but would push one that killed everyone who hated him.

It’s an interesting distinction, and now it seems to be a reality thanks to Mahito. The question is whether Mahito and Yoshino just happened to cross paths, or if the cursed spirit sought to recruit a young follower. In any case, Gojou leaves the investigation of the theater killings to his pal Nanami Kento, with Yuuji riding shotgun.

Nanami is about as no-nonsense as Jujutsu sorcers come, and he insists that a overly gung-ho Yuuji only use “moderate effort” where it will suffice. He also makes it clear he considers Yuuji a child while he is a full-fledged adult. This is in stark contrast to Gojou, who is as much a big brother as a sensei to Yuuji.

Nanami teaches Yuuji how to sense and see “residuals”, the residue of cursed techniques, which lead them to a rooftop battle with a couple of curses. He shows off his ability to slice up a curse with the blunt end of a heavily-wrapped knife, while Yuuji demonstrates his “Divergent Fist”, the cool name Gojou gives to the natural inclination for his punches to hit once physically and then again with cursed energy for a double whammy.

But something’s off about these curses, and Nanami orders Yuuji not to finish them. Ieiri later learns that they were humans that were somehow transformed (and possibly given the ability to use cursed energy) by a particular cursed technique. (Quick PSA: do not play a drinking game whenever someone says “cursed” in this show, or you will surely die.)

As Mahito further schools up Yoshino on his elemental pals (Joujo, Hanami, and Zoidberg) from his sewer lair, Nanami instructs Yuuji to track down Yoshino with Ijichi to possibly learn the location of the culprit’s hideout. But as he confides in Ijichi, Nanami already knows exactly where the culprit is; he just doesn’t want to take a kid like Yuuji into a potentially lethal situation.

We’ll see if Yuuji’s emotional intelligence can break Mahito’s hold on Yoshino, or if the two lads are fated to become enemies in the slowly-brewing human-curse war. Apparently, Yuuji carrying around a small cage containing Boglin-like curses has something to do with the mission…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. I realize nine episodes in and I haven’t commented on the OP, ED, or omaki segments. All three are excellent on all counts, with particular praise going to the jaunty beat and expressive dance animation of the ED and the omaki skits’ ability to drop all pretense and simply have more comedic fun with these colorful characters.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 08 – Twisted Sister School

After being entirely absent from the previous episode, Megumi and Nobara stick around for the lion’s share of the eighth. While I understand that plot-wise it makes more sense to unveil Yuuji at the Exchange Event, there’s still a sense of dissatisfaction from the fact the central trio has been apart far longer than they’ve been together, and Megumi and Nobara of them are still in the dark.

The delegation from Kyoto arrives at Tokyo Jujutsu Tech, and their third-year ace Toudou Aoi decides to pick a fight with Megumi, while Zenin Maki’s twin sister Mai restrains Nobara. Toudou decides to beat up Megumi for no reason other than he finds him boring, especially when it comes to his non-specific taste in women. Mai…just wants to shoot a bitch?

Megumi tries his best against Toudou, hoping his ranged cursed techniques will let him keep his distance. But it doesn’t go well, and the outmatched Megumi ends up beaten bloody before Inumaki and Panda come to the rescue. Toudou is content to end the fight there, but it’s clear that Kyoto’s sorcerers-in-training are far crazier and more violent than Tokyo’s (Granted, we haven’t met any of the third-years).

Mai proceeds to shoot holes in Nobara’s brand-new tracksuit, to teach her a lesson in “manners”, but Maki arrives to stop her twin sister from putting any bullet holes in Nobara’s body. Nobara demands Mai leave her uniform behind as payment for ruining her tracksuit, but Toudou whisks her off, as he doesn’t want to be late for the super-tall idol Takada-chan’s handshake event.

Maki confirms to Nobara that she doesn’t have any cursed energy, while Mai doesn’t know any cursed techniques. You’d think that considering together they possess the two qualities that are typically crucial to being an effective sorcerer they’d work together…but you’d be wrong. As for Nobara, she gains a heightened respect for her senpai, affectionately leaning onto her as they walk.

Kyoto’s principal Gakuganji is waiting with his attendant Miwa when instead of Principal Yaga, Gojou enters the room, having intentionally changed Yaga’s schedule so he could have some time along with the Kyoto bigwig. Gojou simply wants to impart his dissatisfaction with the stuffy, tradition-obsessed higher-ups.

Between stronger cursed spirits and stronger students, terms like “special-grade” will lose all meaning, and the fogies aren’t prepared for what happens then. Gojou, on the other hand, intends to be. Miwa comports herself well, but “Inner Miwa” is going completely gaga over Gojou. Akasaki Chinatsu and some excellent character animation really bring a seemingly bit player in Miwa to life. Finally, Toudou gets to meet Takada-chan.

A month passes, and we transition to a movie theater where three high school students ended up killed and their heads severely deformed. One witness spots the apparent culprit Mahito, whom we met on the beach last week. Then Yuuji appears for the first time this episode, along with an older guy wearing Batou-like glasses. Looks like Yuuji is being given one more mission to break him in before heading to the Exchange Event.

Wonder Egg Priority – 02 – Poached

Episode one was such a feast of beautiful and weird imagery and sound, twisting time and space, and unblinking glimpses of hard truths that we as the audience necessarily needed a little time to find our footing. This week focuses Ai’s new role as plucky heroine saving “damsels in egg-stress”, but also her efforts to connect with the taciturn Aonuma Neiru.

Unlike the other girls with whom Ai has interacted so far, Neiru is both alive and inhabits the same real world as her. Which means Ai can make a real friend! Trouble is, Neiru is singularly focused on processing as many eggs as possible in order to save her little sister, i.e. her Nagase Koito. So while Neiru gives Ai her number, it’s only so they can arrange not to meet.

Neiru makes it clear that while they have similar roles, they’re different people. For one thing, she “loves” herself, while Ai hates herself. We’re reminded of the struggles Ai faces when she comes home to find a therapist is there, and grudgingly goes through as session with her mom present. While we know she’s out doing good in the world, her mom likely suspects she’s engaged in some kind of self-destructive behavior.

Regardless, Ai continues her work, determined to “save” Koito even though “saving her” may not bring her back physically but rather heal Ai—I’d call it an elaborate means of working through the trauma and not allowing it to consume her life. As with last week’s egg, this newest one contains another girl who is already gone, but thanks to Ai, is able to exorcise her demon, AKA her “Wonder Killer.”

In the case of timid Suzuhara Minami, the Wonder Killer is her abusive gymnastics coach. Minami doesn’t like the situation she’s in, but blames her own weakness, and we witness the psychological power of the coach when she arrives on the roof and places a hand on the submissive Minami’s head.

In a nice visual tough, as this week’s “captured maiden” Minami wears a frilly leotard under her hoodie, emphasizing her status as a princess for Ai the knight to rescue. The resigned Minami urges Ai not to bother with her, but as her head is turned, the coach transforms into a grotesque monster.

Ai looks back to when the bullying of Koito started. Koito’ uniform was torn and thown in the mud, which she calls “classic harassment”. The other girls were jealous of the extra attention she, as a transfer student, got from their teacher. She had Ai hide in a locker and film the bullies physically abusing her, but Ai was too scared and didn’t capture any usable footage.

Even so, Kotio smiles her sad smile and thanks her friend for “doing the best she could.” Disgusted that she didn’t do more when it mattered, Ai resolves to save Minami no matter what she says. She heads to the gym, where the monster coach is holding her by the head and repeatedly slapping her in the face.

Of course, the “tough love” the coach is dishing out is nothing more than abuse, and Ai won’t stand by and watch. That said, her giant rainbow key weapon proves useless against the coach. When Minami tries to stop her from hurting Ai, the coach tosses her aside and her yellow ribbon goes flying.

Ai realizes the ribbon is the weapon she needs to use, and while the coach squirts a thick pink liquid from her teat to blind Ai, Minami serves as her eyes, telling her where the coach is and which way to dodge. She eventually lands a coup-de-grace, and the coach explodes in a spatter of paint-like blood.

In the aftermath, Minami thanks Ai for saving her, and wishes they had met earlier so they could have gone out for burgers together. Instead, she vanishes in a puff of smoke just like the first maiden, after asking Ai to think of her sometimes.

While it’s gutting to watch Ai gain the trust of and befriend someone two weeks in a row, only for them to disappear moments after she saves them, that pain is mitigated by two factors: Ai is working towards saving Koito, and she’s met a real friend and fellow heroine in Neiru.

After Minami vanishes, we find Ai in the hospital with her mom, wearing a neck brace. As with last week, the injuries she sustains in her battles with Wonder Killers remain with her in the real world. No doubt her mom is horribly worried for her daughter, having no idea what’s going on. It could also be that nothing we’ve seen Ai do is actually real, but all in her head.

That said, Neiru fares worse than her, ending up in the ICU after trying to handle too many eggs at once. Ai visits her in the hospital and asks if they can be friends. Once she’s recovered a bit, they head up to the hospital roof and discuss what being friends entails. Ai talks about going out for burgers and fries, as Minami wanted to do.

Over sweet-smelling peach-orange sodas, Neiru texts Ai back a thumbs-up, indicating that she’s willing to give this friend thing a try. In a wonderful little piece of elegant animation her resting neutral face slowly turns upward into a gentle smile, and Ai’s smile subtly widens in response.

Even though  I’m rarely sure what’s real life or not (which is likely the point), the scene of Ai and Neiru on the roof seemed realer than most. We’ll see if the two only hang out in between separate maiden rescues, or if they decide to join forces and aid one another in their respective goals. Now that I better know the structure and rules of those rescues, like Ai I feel a lot more comfortable and optimistic.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 02 – Facing the Outside

Most isekai anime never return to the protagonist’s original world after the first episode, but as Rudy grows older and more accustomed to his new life as a little kid, his trauma begins manifesting as flashes of that previous life. First, we’re presented with a Rudy who skips his parents’ funeral so he can jerk off in his bedroom.

When three goons break in, he runs away, sees a truck about to hit some high school students, and runs into its path, resulting in the death we saw last week. Back in the new world, Rudy considers walking in on his parents loudly screwing when he sees Roxy masturbating outside their door. Symmetry.

As pervy as Rudy is, even he knows better than to disturb Roxy in such a vulnerable state, like the goons did to him the night he died. The empathy he displays here underscores the promise of this new life: the chance to properly develop mentally, something that wasn’t possible in his old life. It’s also an early hint of the respect he gains for Roxy, who isn’t just his master, but his first friend…in either life.

Six months, then a year pass since Roxy arrived, and Rudy is making fast progress with his magic, and no longer passing out after expending it. Roxy looks upon this progress with pride, but also a sense of sad inevitability: soon he’ll easily surpass her as a mage and she’ll have nothing left to teach him. As for the green-haired demonic “Superd” she warns him about, Rudy already knows about monsters from his past life.

In his previous life, Rudy was brutally bullied at school, regularly stripped down, tied up, and photographed by leering, laughing gawkers. Though we’re seeing things purely from his POV there’s no reason to think he’s embellishing things, and we see that this treatment led him to cease moving forward. He retreated into the safety of his room, where he remained in stasis.

Even though his two worlds couldn’t look any more different (a contrast that’s well-executed by the visuals), he feels the same fear of the outside beyond his family’s land as he did leaving his room, or even looking out his window. When Roxy recommends he attend Ranoa Magic University in the Red Dragon Mountains to further his training, he brushes it off as unnecessary; he’ll be just fine where he is, with Roxy.

Of course, Rudy is deluding himself. Roxy is a great teacher, but as he reaches five years old (the first of three 5-year intervals birthdays are celebrated in this world) they’re quickly approaching the point when Roxy has nothing left to teach him. To remain home would stunt his development, both as a mage and as a person.

For his fifth birthday Rudy receives a tome from his mom, a sword from his dad, and a wand from Roxy, along with the announcement that he’ll use the wand for his imminent graduation exam. The magic they’ll be learning is dangerous, so they must travel away from home. The prospect of going outside causes Rudy to freeze up; as Roxy aptly puts it, he’s finally “acting his age.”

Roxy assures him there’s nothing to fear, and helps him exorcise his past life’s demons simply by being her wonderful self. As they ride past other villagers, Rudy wants them to stop staring at him, but then realizes they’re staring at Roxy, who in just a year was able to win the entire village over despite the prejudice surrounding people with hair her color.

With nothing left to fear of the new land in which he finds himself, Rudy watches Roxy pull of the biggest magical spell yet, summoning a huge storm that accidentally injures the family horse, Caravaggio. Thankfully he’s easily healed up and then placed in a protective shell when it’s Rudy’s turn to cast the spell.

As with the magical trials Fran puts Elaina through in Wondering Witch, the full terrible potential of elite-level magic is fully realized by the surpassing visuals, as the idyllic landscape is entirely greyed out by blinding sheets of rain, only to emerge more beautiful than before, with tinges of pink and violet in the blue skies.

Rudy passed his first two big tests of life in his new world: stepping outside, and passing his final exam with Roxy. With that passage, there truly is nothing else Roxy can teach him. While I half-expected him to press further for her to stay—either by becoming the village’s resident mage or, say, becoming his dad’s third wife—Rudy isn’t the only one who needs to move forward, and Roxy intends to travel the world, re-hone her skills, and see what else she can learn.

So while Rudy is understandably sad to see her go (as are his folks, who fail to hold back tears for her goodbye), he lets her go, thanking her for imbuing him with knowledge, experience, and technique in magic as well as life. He will also never forget that it was Roxy who brought him outside and showed him it was nothing to fear.

While Roxy was little more than a pretty game character made flesh to Rudy when they met, she’s become someone with whom he formed a genuine human connection, learned more than he’d ever imagined, and healed him in a way he’d long thought impossible. For all of that she’ll have his everlasting gratitude and respect.

Of course, Rudy is still Rudy, as we’re reminded when Lilia discovers a pair of Roxy’s underwear he’d stashed away a few months prior to her departure…the little shit! But maybe, just maybe, he’s taken the first steps to becoming a little less of a shit. Baby steps.

Stray Observations:

  • Rudy died the same night as his parents’ funeral. Looks like they were last line of defense that kept the tormentors out of his house. We later catch them outside his door telling him not to give up.
  • While the extent of the public torture Rudy endured stretches credulity, I’m not putting anything past human beings after 2020.
  • Roxy is indeed the age where, ahem, “that kind of thing” is pretty normal, and this being a world that lacks the modern means of taking care of that, listening to two people having sex would have to suffice.
  • That said, the session she and Rudy overheard did not result in a baby sibling for Rudy. I presume he’ll get one at some point.
  • Rudy is not yet much of a swordsman despite Paul’s efforts, but in Rudy’s defense, he’s five. you gotta give the kid a sword his size!
  • Roxy brings up the Superd, who have green hair and red stones in their foreheads. They started the horrific Laplace War between humans and demons. Rudy visualizes them as similar to Sadako from The Ring.
  • Seeing the village kids leering with flip phones was hella creepy.
  • Social status, pride, and even race apparently don’t matter at Ranoa University. I imagine Rudy will be heading there as soon as he’s old enough…say seven.
  • The little aside of Zenith affectionately feeding Roxy and Lilia grapes was extremely cute.
  • Really glad Caravaggio pulled through! Poor horse looked like he was toast—literally.
  • Read Crow’s write-up here!

Horimiya – 02 – Your (First) Name.

The first Horimiya was so nice I watched it twice, and if anything it was even better because I didn’t have to take mental notes for a review, I just slipped into it like a warm cozy blanket and enjoyed. I enjoyed so much, in fact, at no point during the two viewings did I realize that Hori didn’t know Miyamura’s first name!

But before that, Hori and Miyamura are strolling along the shopping district when she overhears the theme song of an anime Souta likes, and starts singing along. In addition to showing off Tomatsu Haruka’s lovely singing voice, she also charms Miyamura to no end, even though she herself is embarrassed.

It’s such a gorgeous and realistic little moment in these two’s normal lives, not just because she felt so carefree with Miyamura she sang in front of him without thinking. Memorizing songs your kid siblings (or kids, if you’re a parent) is just a thing that happens IRL. You think I care about “Let it Go” enough to memorize the lyrics? Doesn’t matter, because my nieces watched Frozen literally hundreds of times!

Back to first names: Hori suddenly realizes she doesn’t know Miyamura’s when her perpetually busy mom stops by the house unannounced. Voiced by Kayano Ai in Full Mischievous Mom Mode, Hori can’t conceal how much Miyamura has been over of late since Souta is right there to fact-check. That said, Hori’s description of him as “dark villain in a detective movie”? *Chef’s kiss*

While a more structurally complex episode than the first, Horimiya hews to storytelling best practices. A “what’s your first name” scenario could be drawn out across a whole episode, but it manages to resolve things in just a third of one. Hori’s Wile E. Coyote-like attempts to learn without asking fail hilariously, particularly when she has the gall to ask Tooru, the guy she just rejected, about Miyamura!

With her mom around, Hori has a surefire way of hearing Miyamura introduce himself, but her mom seems to sense she’s trying to take a shortcut and save face, so she diabolically sends Hori off on an errand when Miyamura stops by. Finally, with Miyamura directly asking if something’s bothering her, and if it’s because she has a crush on someone, she has no choice but to come clean.

Miyamura Izumi has a good laugh at her expense. Souta calls her lame, and Miyamura has known her first name was Kyouko all along. But at the end of the segment, she’s able to cast aside the histrionics and laugh about it with them. The bit doesn’t go on any longer than it needs to, and now Hori has a piece of paper with Miyamura’s name, so she has no excuse to forget it!

The next segment introduces three new classmates, bringing the total to seven. All three are in the Student Council, and include President, Top-Ranked student, and Hori’s childhood friend Sengoku Kakeru, his gorgeous girlfriend/StuCo mascot Ayasaki Remi (M · A · O), and the VP, Kouno Sakura.

The StuCo and Kakeru in particular seem to have no qualms pushing huge heaps of StuCo paperwork on Hori, despite her not being a member. Worse still, much of the work she’s tasked with doing should be Remi’s responsibility. Hori’s friends can tell all the extra work is weighing on her, but she seems stubbornly determined—and oddly obligated—to do it anyway.

Later that afternoon, while Miyamura is minding his own business in the hall, thinking about whether to bake Hori a cake to cheer her up, Remi races past and barrels into him, spilling a huge box of papers everywhere. Then Remi has the temerity to ask him to watch where he’s going. Dude was stationary, kid! When he notices she left a stack of papers behind, she says it’s cool to just toss them.

The next day, Miyamura arrives to find a potential dust-up in the hallway, as Kakeru accuses Hori of losing track of the budget papers. She rightfully pleads innocence, and while Kakeru admits both sides share some responsibility, he still demands an apology. Hori seems on the verge of tears as the crowd around them prepares to make their own conclusions.

From then, it’s Miyamura to the rescue, handing his bag and glasses to Tooru for safekeeping, pushing through the crush, and delivering a swift headbutt to Kakeru, then producing the missing budget papers. Remi is revealed as the party responsible for their being misplaced, and turns on the waterworks.

But like Miyamura lying to Tooru last week, or the first-name thing this week, this is just another thing, and all parties are able move past it. The StuCo bow in apologetic unison, Yuki gives Hori a relieved hug, and Hori thanks her pierced knight in tattooed armor.

As for why he headbutted Kakeru, well…the guy was simply pissing him off. Me too, Miyamura! But we also learn the reason why Kakeru and Hori’s dynamic is the way it is. It reveals that ever since they were little tykes and through grade and middle school, Hori consistently bullied and messed with Kakeru.

I for one am glad Kakeru isn’t just a one-dimensional bad guy, but something more nuanced, and with reason and history behind his manner. He vowed to Hori that he’d make something of himself in high school and she’d no longer be able to mess with him, and so he has; he’s the academic top dog and loved by virtually everyone.

Miyamura is a new wrinkle in their long-standing relationship, and even though Miyamura has no intention of delivering any further headbutting, Kakeru still shrinks into a anxious ball when Miyamura greets him in the morning. Maybe Kakeru, like his childhood friend, also sees the detective movie villain in him!

The third and final segment (lotta bang for the buck this week!) could also have been stretched into an entire episode, but Horimiya’s writing is tight and efficient enough that it’s able to basically tell three episodes worth of story in one. This one focuses on the fact Hori’s birthday is coming up, concurrent with spring break.

Souta asks Hori if Miyamura (whom he thinks of as a brother now) will be over every day; Hori gently warns her little bro that the day may come when Miyamura won’t come over anymore. That could be for a variety of reasons, from the two of them drifting apart, to him finding a girl(or boy)friend, to them simply graduating and ending up in different places afterwards.

The bottom line is, Hori is as sad as Souta about the prospect of Miyamura not coming around anymore. Fortunately, that prospect should be a ways off, if it ever comes. Miyamura comes by with a cake (natch) as well as a very personalized and thoughful gift: a CD of “all the popular music young people like right now” (I love how she phrases it as if she were some old lady).

Between school, housework, and caring for Souta, Hori confessed to have fallen behind on musical trends. She told Miyamura this back when she was singing the anime theme. He not only remembered, but got her exactly what she wanted. She’s amazed he did this, but she shouldn’t be. As Souta tells her earlier, exhibiting quite the precociousness, she should be more honest with herself.

Both express their happiness in that moment with wide but also tentative smiles, as they both look outside the window and watch the sakura petals falling. If it’s Hori’s birthday, it means spring break is almost over, and they’ll be in their third and final year of high school soon.

For such an ostensibly jam-packed episode, the fact this moment is given such time to breathe and fill the space says a lot about the deftness of Horimiya’s direction. It also says a lot about the writing in terms of what isn’t said in this closing scene, simply letting the joy of being together in the present become tempered by the uncertainty of future. Frankly, Miyamura and Hori should stop worrying so much about the future and try to enjoy life in the present!

Yes, it’s something to think about, but it cannot dominate their thoughts, nor always mar otherwise happy times. Heck, the fact they’re so apprehensive about a future in which they’re not together should be an obvious sign of their feelings for one another. If they’re so concerned about time, then they should get a move on with acknowledging those feelings and making them known to one another.