Assault Lily: Bouquet – 12 (Fin) – Wrapped Up in You

Whatever Yuyu’s tortured emotional state prior to retrieving her late Schutzengel’s CHARM from Moyu’s lab, it’s all cleared up by the time she joins Riri in the battle against the mega-Huge. She uses Lunatic Trancer in a focused, controlled way, beating back the Huge’s sword-like appendages and helping Riri buy time for the other Lilies.

Riri crosses swords with Yuyu, and her Charisma skill seemingly binds with Misuzu’s within the Dainsleif to neutralize not only Yuyu’s Lunatic Tracer, but the damping field keeping everyone from using Magie. That allows the rest of the Hitotsuyanagi Legion to execute the Neunwelt Tactic. Not only do Yuyu and Riri’s seven legion-mates pass the Magie sphere amongst themselves, but pass it to each and every Lily in the Yurigaoka student body

Riri and Yuyu gladly accept that sphere and add their own Magie to it, resulting in a coup-de-grace that bisects the Huge and utterly destroys it. There are no Lily casualties, and there’s an unintended result to the collateral damage from the Huge explosion: the baths are now al fresco. The Lilies’ post-battle bath is also the first in which Yuyu joins Riri, much to the chagrin of Kaede.

But there’s one more battle to be fought: the ultra-class Huge lurking in the currently dormant nest. Moyu and the director determine that Riri and her highly advanced Charisma ability is the only one who can destroy the boss, but allow her to make the choice. Obviously, Riri accepts the mission, and Yuyu will accompany and protect her. The two are airdropped via V-22 Osprey into what looks like a hurricane’s eye, their descent slowed by a charming parasol.

I figured there’d be a little more mind wrestling among Yuyu, Misuzu, and Riri, but in a surprising twist we neither see nor hear Misuzu this week, and Yuyu is simply fine now, thanks to Riri. They descend down to the ocean floor and together they thrust Misuzu’s Dainsleif into the Huge.

This injects it with “bug” code courtesy of Moyu, and the Huge is obliterated without a fight. Riri pulls on Yuyu’s tie, which generates a spherical floatation device. Riri briefly loses consciousness and meets Yuri in a dream, who says a proper goodbye and promises she’ll get her and Yuyu home safe.

Riri wakes up to find she and Yuyu are inside the bubble in their skivvies. They wash up on the shore, and Kaede bursts the bubble and is mortified by the “lascivious” scene. Their Legion, along with Alfhiem and many other Lilies welcome the conquering heroines home. A photo of the scantily clad couple makes it in the paper, along with the news that Moyu and Gropi finally became Schutzengel and Schild—which is staged like a wedding.

Then everyone gathers under the old tree for a well-deserved nap. This finale wasn’t all that concerned with delving back into Yuyu’s complex relationship with Misuzu or the larger ramifications of synthetic Lilies or even the role of Lilies in a post-Huge era. Instead, it gave us one last slick battle, a final boss fight that’s more of a formality, and a return to the carefree life of leisure and fellowship the Lilies enjoyed when not dealing with crises. It’s a perfectly serviceable ending.

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 11 – A Drop of Morning Dew

Apprently, there is no separating Yuyu from Misuzu. Wracked by grief and guilt in the third and sixth episodes, Yuyu went on rampages and Riri was able to calm her, probably by using her Rare Skill Charisma. But that seems to have only been a temporary fix, as some lingering version of Misuzu continues to haunt and influence her.

As Riri’s Legion decides to throw a “ramune party” for Riri, Moyu reports the findings of her research, which suggest that not only did Misuzu possess the Rare Skill Charisma (like Riri), but that Charisma has influenced the Huge and caused them to evolve.

Moyu, an old friend of Yuyu’s, isn’t able to get much of anything useful out of Yuyu, as the Misuzu in her head seemingly tightens her hold on her, making her less useful and responsive. Moyu knows something is wrong, but unless Yuyu says something, she cant help.

Instead, Yuyu keeps returning to her past with Misuzu, who comes off like a young Anakin Skywalker, slowly being consumed by the fear and anger her powers are creating, and thus talking about things she wouldn’t say to anyone else. Young Yuyu is so glad to be loved, she doesn’t seem to realize Misuzu is serious about wanting to be killed if she “goes too far”.

When Riri tries to bring Yuyu back into the here or now, she’s unsuccessful; Yuyu’s simmering pain and the influence of the Misuzu in her head are too overwhelming to bother with Riri or parties. Misuzu wonders if it’s Yuyu with the Charisma. Just then, three bright lines streak up into the sky from the Huge Nest.

Those three objects eventually land, creating craters and forcing the evacuation of the academy. The three objects become active and combine their Magie into a single object. Even the Acting Chairman seems unsure if they’re going to be able to get out of this one. All of the Lilies discover their CHARMs have no Magie; the objects created some kind of dampening field. Only Riri’s CHARM works, and she heads off to find Yuyu.

Yuyu, who has all but Gone Bye-Bye, reliving a disturbing memory of Misuzu comparing her to a drop of morning dew. Misuzu is fighting with every fiber of her being not to destroy Yuyu like she did that beautiful but ephemeral drop…to hold back “wicked feelings.” Very Dark Side-y. It’s confirmed when the developing Huge flashes the same Rune Misuzu flashes when she uses Charisma to silence Yuyu in the flashback.

It’s clear Misuzu controls Yuyu still, as Yuyu tries to enter Lunatic Tracer mode to attack the developing Huge. When Riri arrives to try to take her out of harm’s way, Yuyu accuses her of trying to control her like Misuzu did. Riri, noting Yuyu’s CHARM has no Magie, she smacks it out of her hands, ruining it in the process.

Riri assures Yuyu that the Misuzu she’s seeing and interacting with isn’t the “real” Misuzu…but how can she know that? She then heads off, again, on her own…again. How did that work out for Yuri, again? The rest of the Legion may be all but powerless, but they’re still united in their desire to help Riri…somehow.

As for Riri, she comes face to face with the biggest, meanest, most advanced Huge yet; a Huge whose evolution has seemingly been sped along to near-perfection by Misuzu. Back in the dorm, Yuyu calms herself enough to remember there’s a CHARM she can use: the Dainsleif in the research lab. Sure enough, its Magie is still active. But will Yuyu use it to help Riri fight the Huge, or will she simply fight Riri?

Assault Lily gets super dark this week, building on a lot of bandied-about ideas about the similarities between the Lilies and their Nemeses the Huge. But I can’t help but feel like we’re treading on worn ground with Yuyu and Misuzu. I like all the dark new revelations that surfaced this week, but Yuyu’s previous struggles lend these events an air of repetitiveness.

The Yuri arc, on which considerable time was spent, doesn’t seem to offer much to all of this, or at least the show isn’t making a potential connection clear, other than possibly Misuzu chose to be a Huge while Yuri chose to be a Lily. I almost wish the Yuri story had been excised in favor of more development of Yuyu and others.

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 10 – Four-Leaf Clover

The big question going into this week was “What Now?” Would Riri and her Legion try to find a way to bring Yuri back, or would she accept and process her loss? This is answered pretty quickly: Yuri is gone, and she’s not coming back. As a formality, Riri is serving a week in solitary confinement.

Even her Schutzengel Yuyu can only visit her for ten minutes. It’s clear Riri’s building a hard shell in which to put all of her regret and sadness, and Yuyu wants to do something about it. So she asks the rest of the Legion to help her look for her missing four-leaf clover hairpin, which she lost in the battle.

They all think of ways their perception-based rare skills can be combined and experiment over the next six days, but without success. They mostly end up exhausting themselves and requiring long soothing baths to recover, but no one wants to give up.

During one of those bath sessions, other Lilies learn what Riri’s Legion is up to, and they want to help contribute if they can. Meanwhile, Kaede seems busy using the crafts workshop to create a new four-leaf clover for Riri.

On the seventh and final day before Riri is released, Yuyu and her Legion are shocked to find virtually the entire school has come out to the beach so they can all combine their magie into one massive ultra-precise search net.

It works: the location of the pin is determined, and Kaede rides on Thi Mai’s back and they race out to the open water to recover the pin…at the cost of getting very cold and wet and needing to sit by a fire afterwards.

When Riri emerges from her cell, she’s surprised to find not just her Legion members, but all of the other Lilies who helped out and were concerned about her. Kaede presents the four-leaf clover she made, and Riri recognizes it as a fake, as hers always had a crack in one leaf.

Kaede owns up to having found the genuine article early in their weeklong search, but it was so badly damaged she feared presenting it to Riri would do the opposite of cheer her up, so she spent long nights crafting a new one from scratch.

Kaede is contrite for duping everyone, but Riri gives her a big hug, thankful for her and everyone else’s efforts on her behalf. Then, despite being happy, tears start to fall, and before long she’s bawling her eyes out. Yuyu is glad she’s letting it all out; its a catharsis Riri’s imprisonment had unnaturally delayed.

Now that she’s free, Riri can finally visit Yuri’s grave and pay her respects, and the subject of Yuyu’s Schutzengel Kawazoe Misuzu comes up, with regard to how Yuyu managed to get over her death. Yuyu says it simply takes time and the acceptance that the past can’t be changed. Then the “ghost” of Misuzu appears and speaks to Yuyu (Riri can’t see her).

This is an odd coincidence, because a CHARM has been recovered from inside a Huge five months ago, and Moyu determines that its owner was…Kawazoe Misuzu. Is the ghost just in Yuyu’s head, or is it a product of Mizusu’s CHARM somehow “influencing” the Huge?

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 04 – Assembling a Team

Concerned that Riri is letting their Schutzengel go to her head and slacking, and annoyed that Fumi blasted the contract in the paper (complete with their couple name “Yuri”), Yuyu tasks her pink-haired Schild with putting together a new legion. While she intends for Riri to form her own, Riri ends up recruiting for a legion that will include and be led by Yuyu.

While legions like Alfheim have been together since junior high, there are plenty of free agent Lilies for Riri and Fumi to choose from; it’s just that some, like Andou Tazusa, are hard to approach—though it helps if you have a kitty. Meanwhile, a bonded pair like Kuo Shenlin and Wang Yujia take Riri’s recruitment as an opportunity to clear the air.

The more Riri recruits, the more she learns how sought-after Kaede and Fumi are, and how lacking she seems by comparison. Riri’s problem is similar to Yujia’s—she’s got skills, but lacks confidence. Still, Kaede and Fumi don’t flaunt the fact other Legions want them; they’re right where they want to be: with Riri and Yuyu. Miriam von Gropius soon joins them, and the legion grows to five out of a required nine.

Shenlin and Yujia become the sixth and seventh, but only after the former puts the latter through her paces in an attempt to boost her confidence. She knows Riri will provide moral support as Yujia is ordered by Shenlin to target her with her sniper rifle, firing from a kilometer away.

When Shenlin reflects the tenth and final shot back, Yujia is able to parry, thus demonstrably ending the debate about her mettle when compared to her two sisters, who are still defending her homeland of Iceland.

Shenlin, who became the Lily she is due to strenuous hard work, simply wanted to remind a natural talent like Yujia to have faith in herself. That leaves just two slots remaining in Team Yuri—though it’s a good bet they’ll be filled by Andou Tazusa and Yoshimura Thi Mai.

Frankly, there’s not a whole lot to go on this week other than marveling at the sheer variety of Lilies, their hair colors and outfits, personality quirks, and abilities. In the characterization department, Assault Lily is concerned with quantity over quality, while its quality lies in the character, mechanical, combat, and environmental design, which is all top-notch. We’ll see how long those elements can carry the show.

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 03 – Always Look Your Best

Riri is elated that Yuyu is officially her new Schutzengel, but Yuyu has no intention of going easy on her Schild, delivering no shortage of tough love in the training facility and continuing to be cold and aloof.

Riri also gets to watch the Alfheim legion work. The nine-lily team who work together to bring down a low-level Huge—basically the opposite of Yuyu’s go-it-alone strategy.

While bathing with Kaede an Fumi, Riri is approached by Alfheim members, who offer some explanation for why Yuyu is the way she is: in a battle two years ago her own Schutzengel was killed. She still haunts Yuyu, noting that she’s “scared” both for and of Riri, and thus quick to turn her away.

Eventually Riri manages to focus her Magie and parry her attack. Right afterward the pair are on duty, and Yuyu makes sure to fix Riri’s tussled hair and uniform: an Assault Lily must look her best on the battlefield.

When the Huge arrives, it is a Restored, a Huge that survived previous attacks and returned to its base for repairs. Its shell is lined with the broken CHARMs of dead Lilies, and Yuyu decides that Riri will sit this one out. She says it’s because she’ll be in the way, but really it’s to avoid a repeat of what happened with her Schutzengel.

You see, Yuyu’s “Rare Skill” is Lunatic Trancer, so called because it transforms her into a white-haired berserk killing machine who will fight friend or foe until her Magie is spent. Seeing the CHARMs of fallen Lilies triggers the skill, and Yuyu goes on an unfocused rampage.

Due to the threat she poses, none of the other on-duty freelance Lilies can lend aid, but once Riri learns the rest of Yuyu’s story—that she was initially suspected of harming her own Schutzengel while in Trancer mode—she decides that she’ll be the one to break her out of it.

Riri rushes in to meet Yuyu, but when they cross CHARMs a first and then a a second time, Riri holds firm, and their Magie touches through the blades. Yuyu dismisses herself as a despicable monster consumed by hatred, but Riri tells her she doesn’t care, she’s still her sister, and gives her a hug that pulls her out of her trance.

Together they finish off the Restored, which will be restored no more. Afterward, Yuyu takes Riri to the cemetery where her Schutzengel Kawazoe Misuzu is buried. Later, in the dark of her dorm, Yuyu remembers clearly when she came out of a trance to find she’d run Misuzu through with her blade, but even then her big sister urged her to forgive herself and move forward.

Her roommate Matsuri Hata comes in, turns on the lights, mentions that she heard Yuyu sortied, and says “good work”, Yuyu thanks her, which is apparently enough of a rarity for Hata to note that she can’t recall the last time Yuyu was so nice. Clearly, the Schutzengel is working out swimmingly so far for both her and Riri.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 02 – Yurigaoka Orientation

If last week was primarily a quick “hi” to the main players, a crash course in Huge combat, and the awakening of Riri’s CHARM, this week omits the Huge battle in favor of a more in-depth introduction to Riri’s classmates and Yurigaoka’s facilities, as well as the next small step in Riri and Yuyu’s Schutzengel pact.

As such this episode is heavy on exposition and slice-of-life, starting with Riri waking up. Her roommate Itou Shizu seems nice enough, though finds it weird that Riri sleeps while spooning her CHARM. When she’s hit on by Endou Araya in the bathroom, it’s not only clear that Riri is popular with the other girls, but in need of a measure of defense against unwanted advances.

Speaking of which, when Riri attempts to approach Yuyu to thank her for her help in both the recent and more distant past, her idol gives her the cold shoulder, not even deigning to speak to her. This is disheartening to Riri, though her other classmates insist Yuyu tends to be moody and “too sensitive” despite her hard exterior.

Riri finds comfort and friendship in Fumi and Kaede (who unlike Endou is looking for something more significant than a good time) as the three tour the academy and its grounds, including a tranquil foot bath with a gorgeous view of the sea. Yurigaoka isn’t just a place of learning and training, but a sanctuary as well as a means of the adults atoning for having to use young girls to fight the enemy.

It’s clear that like any university where youths are in close quarters, the academy is also a place where bonds are cultivated and people pair off. Since there’s no guys, that means same-sex relationships are the norm. Some are more overtly romantic than others, but they are all intimate, with the Schutzengel in particular being as much about senpai-kohai dynamics as sharing love.

Like “conventional” marriages and families, it’s about the future, but also about individual transformation. Riri is concerned that Yuyu has changed far too much since the first time they met, and wants to know why. Kaede is content to let take a swing at Yuyu, confident she’ll strike out and leave Riri running into her arms. But as CHARM-smith Mashima Moyu notes, learning more about Yuyu is all about talking to her personally, not asking others about her.

When Riri finally crosses paths with Yuyu again, it’s near the end of the day, in a dramatically-lit hallway. Flanked by Kaede and Fumi, Riri gets down to brass tacks: she wants to form a Schutzengel with Yuyu, and only Yuyu, who after all inspired her to become a Lily. Yuyu refuses, stating that such an agreement would reduce her tactical effectiveness.

This provokes Kaede into moving in to slap her, but Riri comes between them, again demonstrating her innate mobility and stealth, but also giving Yuyu an opening to slap Kaede first. Still, Kaede takes exception to Yuyu’s obsession with battle efficiency; a Schutzengel is about far more than that, and notes that a “pure girl” like Riri is actually the perfect match for a “fool” like her. To this, Yuyu surrenders, and calmly agrees to enter the pact to become Riri’s guardian angel.

After a bath, Riri returns to her dorm where Shizu is there to welcome and congratulate her on her first full day at Yurigaoka. Like Riri, we learned a lot about the Magie embued within CHARMS, as well as the spell runes within either forged metal or rifled gun barrels, and how both Lilies and Huge rely on Magie for their power, albeit in different ways.

The reason for Yuyu’s present troubled state remains a mystery to Riri that she’ll hope to understand the more they hang out and grow closer. That said, Yuyu gave in awfully easily, and while she warns Riri not to regret forming a Schutzengel  with her, she privately expects that Riri will regret it. She’s banking on it, in fact.

In her darkened dorm, her silver-haired senpai talks to her, but as we haven’t seen her interact with anyone, she could be a ghost. This would certainly explain Yuyu’s preference for fighting alone, especially if she blames herself for her guardian angel’s death.

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 01 (First Impressions) – From Idolizer to Idolized

Cheerful airhead Hitotsuyanagi Riri attends her first day at an academy for Assault Lilies, teenage girls who are able to use sword-like CHARMs to fight robotic enemy known as the Huge. Riri’s first meetings of note are with haughty rich girl Kaede Johan Nouvel and cool beauty Shirai Yuyu.

Yuyu saved Riri from the Huge two years ago and is the reason Riri applied to the academy. The three girls team up to fight and defeat an escaped Huge specimen, with Yuyu helping Riri form a pact with her CHARM and Kaede falling for the unexpectedly heroic Riri.

My first thoughts about Assault Lily were that the bridge in the cold open looks just like one in my neck of the woods, that everyone’s tight stockings made me worry for their leg circulation, and that there were too many damn characters to keep track of.

But as I got to watching, I became more engrossed in Riri, Yuyu, and Kaede’s first impromptu Huge-hunting mission, even if the Huge itself was underwhelming robo-CGI. Since this is Shaft, comparisons to the iconic Madoka are inevitable, and the Huge lack the creativity and “wrongness” of Madoka’s Witches.

I was also suspect when we catch the first glimpse of the character’s CGI counterparts, which will almost always look different and separate from the hand-drawn designs. That said, in the heat of battle the speed and focus helps alleviate that design gap, while the combat is smooth, seamless, and impactful.

Characters’ designs also feature an exaggerated Victorian hourglass shape with wide hips impossibly slim waists, and the aforementioned too-tight stockings. The designs take some getting used to, but unlike the Huge at least they’re relatively unique in a sea of big-boobed rail-thin anime characters.

Plot-wise, this opening episode couldn’t be any simpler, with the plucky newbie Riri proving she can hold her own even in her very first fight—after she’s able to draw her CHARM, that is. Both Yuyu and Kaede could tell there was something special when Riri was able to sneak up on both to stop them from fighting early on.

The escaped Huge specimen from the academy lab is a nice way of easing Yuyu and audience into the mechanics of the conflict, though I’m hoping future Huge are more menacing and tougher to bring down. The spotless academy and its lush green environs are beautiful, but this world lacks that immediate existential peril of, say, any Angel attack in Evangelion.

That said, the Huge battle is rough, Riri ends up with a scar on her arm, and both she and Yuyu have to be quarantined after the battle, during which Riri reveals that Yuyu’s heroics on that bridge two years ago are pretty much the sole reason she joined up.

I appreciate that Kaede switched her affection from Yuyu to Riri after the latter pushed her out of harms way (she didn’t need quarantine) and it will be interesting to see if they end up forming a Schutzengel (German for “Guardian Angel”) contract.

Riri’s exploits with Yuyu and Kaede earn her immediate fame before the first-year entrance ceremony even kicks off. No doubt she’ll have more allies, rivals, and neutral parties all keeping a close eye on her so-far rapid progress, while keeping track of all the names and hairstyles will be challenging.

There’s also the inevitable “cool beauty is morose” dynamic to Yuyu suggesting some kind of Dark Past, as well as some end credits with far more explicit yuri elements than we saw in the episode itself. In Japan lilies represent purity and virtue, but with nary a dude to be seen and the conceit that only teenage girls can wield CHARMs, it seems love will be sought and/or found within the same team.

Assault Lily: Bouquet doesn’t offer anything particularly novel, but what it lacks in originality it does largely make up in solid execution. It looks and sounds very polished—as expected for Studio Shaft—and in a lean season may be enough to stick with it.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Wave, Listen to Me! – 09 – The Ecstasy and Agony of the Man-Child

When Minare gets a friendly text from Mitsuo after her bear attack broadcast, her first instinct is to borrow Mizuho’s laptop so she can Google “how to buy a gun” (much tougher in Japan than the U.S.) with which to shoot him, as she promised herself she’d do.

Mizuho calls for calm, and Minare downgrades her intentions to murdering him socially, via doxxing. When Matou and Mizuho both pooh-pooh that idea, Minare agrees to a date at Mt. Moiwa…with no apparent plan in place. Her only prep involves an “aggressive” outfit and dark red lips, knowing he prefers light pink. It’s the little things!

No doubt Minare’s first question going into the date is What gives with the sudden contact after months of nothing? In that regard, it’s fitting that her outfit includes a sleuth’s fedora. It should be noted that Minare has possibly never looked hotter than she does here, and that’s definitely intentional. It’s provocative, yet also self-conscious.

When they first meet up, she can’t help but blush while thinking how he hasn’t changed a bit. It hasn’t been that long, Minare! He then proceeds to throw her off-balance, first by paying for his own cable car ticket (¥1700 per person—not cheap!), then offering up her favorite torimon, and then handing her a brown envelope containing ¥250,000, half of what he owes her. What gives, indeed!

While pondering the possibility of becoming ensnared in an eternal limbo of debt repayment, Minare’s first word in edgewise is an accusation of infidelity by Mitsuo (she heard from a friend he was walking with another girl). That’s when Mitsuo owns up to the fact he indeed befriended a girl, but totally glosses over the particulars of that relationship and goes straight to the story of her trying to stab him.

Mitsuo is hungry and wants curry, and lets it be known by a kind of specific man-child whine that has an almost Pavlovian effect on Minare. However shlumpy this guy looks and how possibly insincere he’s acting, it’s obvious Minare had legitimate feelings for this guy, and there are parts of him that are still thoroughly disarming.

Here’s someone who planned to kill him when he became an abstract bogeyman, but now, in the reality of their reunion and his M.C.T. (Man Child Terror) field, her homicidal designs all but evaporate. Still, once she hears the details of Mitsuo’s brush with death, it doesn’t take long for Detective Koda Minare to forge a theory about the other woman’s motive: she must have also lent Mitsuo money.

There’s a constant push-and-pull going on throughout Minare and Mitsuo’s date that is both all-too-realistic and extremely fascinating. The pain of his past betrayal and her suspicion over his present motives is always on one end of the scale, rising and falling from prominence as Mitsuo works his practiced Suga charm.

Minare is happy and excited to just be on another date again, after much drinking alone, self-commiserating, and the breaking-and-entering of Oki’s place. She even considers the possibility that even a creature like Mitsuo could change for the better after nearly being offed by the latest victim of his adorkably breezy treachery.

For all his faults, Mitsuo is Minare’s type, whether he’s being “cute”, commenting on her lip color, suggesting they do one activity after the other, demonstrating growth by paying his fair share, or telling her the words “there’s no one better than you.” It must feel so good for her hear words like that from someone with whom she’s shared so much history, both good and bad.

Minare is sufficiently hungry for domestic affection that she slips easily back into the comfort and familiarity of Mitsuo’s place, even reflexively making coffee when they’ve already had a ton of it throughout the day. She also takes comfort in his very specific preferences, like what drink goes best with what food.

But when Mitsuo toasts their reunion and “reconciliation”, Minare’s dormant rage re-surfaces, vowing to keep her heart shut tight until the full amount is paid back. He assures her he borrowed it to be a co-signer for a friend’s debt and always meant to pay her back.

Having presented himself as a Good Guy who helps people in need, Mitsuo’s head finds Minare’s thighs, which he admits he’s missed dearly. Minare, in turn, fishes out the ear pick she left there which is so beloved she gave it a name—Onikirimaru!—and proceeds to clean Mitsuo’s ears “for her own sake and pleasure!”

Since it’s been a while since they’ve done this, she’s elated to find a “gold rush” in there. How adorably disgusting! Not to mention intimate. And despite having planned to kill him only yesterday, she still falls for his upside-down face as he once again points out his preference in lip color, and Minare removes the deep red with a tissue.

It is here, where Minare realizes how Mitsuo’s Man-Child nature seemingly encourages her to take the lead while in reality making her the subservient one. It’s a shtick he probably does without even thinking. But the spell is immediately broken when she spots a strange bit of trash when tossing her tissue.

After a sip of coffee, Mitsuo references the “coffee kiss” they’d often do—another beautiful detail that speaks to the deeply specific intimacy of two former lovers. Minare leans down for a kiss, but stops mere inches from his lips. Suddenly, she’s Detective Koda again, she has Mitsuo in “the box”, and he’s not getting out until she’s heard the unvarnished truth from his un-coffee-kissed lips.

He admits he lost the ¥500,000 at the tracks, but came into the ¥250,000 after helping out the relative of a rich oil executive (again implying his charitable good-guy nature). Minare admonishes him for his get-rich-quick nature, urging him to live more frugally by, for instance, learning to cook.

It’s a lure the Man-Child can’t resist; he assures her everything will be fine; why should he cook when there’s so many good, cheap restaurants? Quite literally taking matters into her own thighs, Detective Koda locks Mitsuo’s face in a leg-lock and shows him the suspicious piece of trash: a free magazine full of recipes with a single dried bell pepper seed stuck to the cover.

It’s evidence not just that someone interested in cooking was in the room, but made Mitsuo’s favorite stir-fry recipe, indicating an intimacy with the other woman he had been concealing from her. No need for a judge or jury; in Minare’s eyes, Mr. Suga is guilty. His sentence is what must be some kind of professional wrestling throw that drives his head hard into the floor.

No longer under the influence of Mitsuo’s smile after seeing him lie once more while wearing it, Detective Koda puts her fedora back on and tells him she’ll forgive the remaining half of the money she lent him. It’s preferable to letting him to betray yet another woman to pay him back.

While she harbored abstract (and ultimately impossible) murderous designs prior to their reunion, this Minare is wiser and more level-headed in her condemnation and handing down of punishment. Mitsuo may be glad to be off the hook for the ¥250,000, but if he was being honest when he said there’s “no one better” than Minare, her refusing to take him back is harsh punishment indeed.

This episode was a thrilling, layered, ultimately bittersweet tour-de-force depicting the games played, battles fought, and lies told behind easy smiles and flirtations of two people. You really get the feeling Minare would prefer being in a happy loving relationship with Mitsuo, but she just can’t trust the bastard, and there’s no indication he’ll ever stop fucking up and lying about it.

As Minare enjoys a decisive moral and tactical victory, the episode doesn’t overlook the bitter tragedy of that. If she’s the hard-boiled private dick in an old noir crime novel, Mitsuo is the “homme fatale”. In the end, her loyalty to the truth and her solidarity with women prevailed.

If nothing else, it should make for a hell of a broadcast…

In / Spectre – 12 (Fin) – What a Lovely Day

Whew…Rikka doesn’t play any last-minute trump cards, and Steel Lady Nanase vanishes in a wisp of smoke; the forum have had their say and decided she wasn’t a realy ghost—even though she was.

It turns out Rikka was aware she was dueling with Kotoko and Kurou all along, and emails the latter to congratulate their victory…and warn them that This Isn’t Over. But for now, Kotoko can celebrate her momentous, hard-fought win with Kurou and her youkai associates.

That said, having exerted so much mental energy outwitting Rikka, Kotoko has to rest for a while…a while that turns out to be 28 hours. While she’s asleep, Kurou goes behind her back and has a dinner date with Saki, the scoundrel!

Just kidding; the two have a very proper and cordial dinner as a form of closure on their relationship that ended so abruptly years ago. It’s also an opportunity for Kurou to tell Saki that Rikka is basically trying to create a god who has the power to turn her into a normal human.

The next morning, Kotoko is furious and suspicious about Kurou’s goings-on, and punishes him by getting his only remaining clean shirt wet by pouncing on him straight from the bath and shaking her hair on him, then tumbling around in the bed.

This is why I was so glad the Steel Lady story was wrapped up last week: so we could watch more of this fascinating and endlessly rootable couple interact and bounce off one another. Kotoko is such a formidable firecracker, she practically requires an immortal as a partner.

The two check out of the hotel as it looks close to rain, and Kurou assures Kotoko that he and Saki are so over (which is the truth after all) by comparing her to Princess Iwanaga from the KojikiWhen she’s offended (the princess was sent away because she was homely), he makes an appeal to her surpassing beauty.

After a momentary blush she scolds him for being superficial, then suggests they head for her house to meet with her parents, casually taking Kurou’s hand and holds it tighter and tighter. Honestly, I could watch this pair of lovebirds playfully bicker for another two seasons! Hopefully we’ll get at least one more, since there’s plenty of potential for more supernatural mysteries, not to mention a Rikka rematch.

Read Crow’s review of In/Spectre Episode 12 here.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 05 – Love is In the Air

…Or at least it seems that way, with Nene and Aoi’s class suddenly chock full of new couples. Rumor has it when you confess to someone under a certain tree on school grounds, you’re assured to become a couple. When Aoi’s childhood friend who likes her practices on his male friend, the next day they’re a lovey-dovey couple.

When Hanako-kun suddenly asks Nene to meet him under the tree, she begins to consider if he likes her, rather than wonder what apparition he’s trying to rein in. The source of the successful confessions turns out to be a kodama, or tree spirit. Hanako does indeed confess to Nene, but compels her to reject him, rendering her bait for the kodama, which he then defeats.

Afterwards, Hanako teases Nene for hoping it would be a real confession, only to make her cry genuine tears. Realizing he was reckless with her feelings, Hanako chases after her, takes her hand, removes his hat, and offers a sincere apology, and insisting she stay with him until her tears stop. It’s a very moving scene, aided in no small part by Ogata Megumi’s excellent voice acting.

Seeing Hanako-kun without his hat sparks a newfound interest in learning more about the mysterious ghost boy, including what crime he committed and how he died. Hanako is suspicious of her prying, however, and places Kou between them as a buffer. When Minamoto-senpai is brought up, Nene sings his praises in an admiring, flowery tone, unaware the subject of her praise is not only right behind her, but Kou’s big brother.

As it happens, Teru has come to take Kou aside and admonish him for his lack of progress. His duty is to defeat the Seven Wonders, including Hanako, and Teru is not pleased with the fact Kou seems to have become chums with him. “There are no good apparitions,” warns Teru, who decides if Kou can’t do the job, he will, setting up a major confrontation with Hanako in the near future.

Nene, meanwhile, just wants to learn more about Hanako, and having limited success in the school library. Then a gorgeous, doll-like green-haired girl approaches her, and suggests she visit the Fifth Wonder, the 4 O’clock Library, for more info. Later Aoi warns that while white and black books are fine, one must never read a red book. Three guesses what color Hanako’s book is…

DanMachi II – 04 – The Lightning Rises

With Liliruca successfully rescued and Bell sufficiently trained up, he arrives home to find his familia has grown by three, with Lili, Welf, and Mikoto official Hestians. Ryu, merely a helper and not a familia member, keeps her distance, but is with them all the way.

The night before the siege, Cassandra relays to Daphnie what many a Star Wars character would call “a bad feeling about this,” particularly when she sees their pint-sized ally Luan entering the fortress at the last minute and pulling a wagon carrying a massive cargo. Who do we know who’s that small and can lug that much?

Cassandra calls this a Trojan Horse, and that it will seal their defeat. Who am I to argue with her?!

Every eye (and a good chunk of cash) in Orario is trained upon the magical viewscreens transmitting the War Game, from the adventurers in the tavern to the gods in their meeting place. Outnumbered 100-5, Hestia gets off to a rousing start, with their elven masked mercenary Ryu rushing the walls wielding not one but two of Welf’s magical swords, one fire, one lightning.

Ryu expends every drop of magical power in both those swords carving through as many Apollos as possible, including a fellow elf who is outraged by her use of the same swords that burned through their villages. Ryu feels helping a friend in need is more important than keeping the fires of hatred burning. She also makes such a rukus that Mikoto easily dashes right through the lines and into the castle courtyard.

There, she repels dozens of arrows and lets herself get surrounded by as many Apollos as possible before unleashing a spell that took a few minutes of incantation to cast, but is well worth it from a tactical perspective: it’s high-level gravity magic that immobilizes everyone who pursued her, taking still more Apollos off the board.

Proving each one of the five party members is worth at least ten Apollos, and that big, bold moves by every one of them is absolutely essential to snatch victory from such lopsided numbers, “Luan” “betrays his god and opens the front gate for Bell and Welf. Turns out he’s not Luan at all, but Lilisuke in disguise, who snuck in the night before. The huge wagon wasn’t the Trojan Horse, she was.

Welf covers Bell as he rushes to the central tower where Hyakinthos has so far been comfortably watching. Daphnie holds Welf up, but as one of the two main DanMachi themes blares (“Heroic Desire,” an all-timer that always gives me chills) Bell slides right in and blasts a massive Firebolt straight up, reducing the tower to a pile of rubble and bringing Hyakinthos right to him. He also wastes no time snapping his prized sword.

Cassandra almost spoils the upset when she tackles Bell, letting Hyakinthos unleash his special attack, but Lili tackles her just in time to let Bell dodge it enough to survive. Bell also got some help from that pendant Syr gave him before he went off to battle—one bearing the symbol of Freya Familia.

That moment, when he is so close to defeat and Hyakinthos so close to victory, is what Ais drilled into his head was the moment to wait for. When it comes, Bell doesn’t waste it. He knows Hyakinthos is about to finish him, so his opponent is basically opening himself up. Bell evades his dagger, kicks him off his feet, then delivers a knockout punch.

War Game Over: Hestia Familia is the winner.

Those who voted for the ultimate underdog get one hell of a payday while all of Bell’s friends who cheered him on rejoice, from Ais to Syr and even Freya. Even better, Hestia does NOT go easy on Apollo, who tries to backtrack and pretend he was just messing around because he found Bell cute.

Hestia confiscates all of Apollos property, declares his familia disbanded, and banishes him from Orario forever. She then takes her newly-expanded familia to the front gates of their new palatial home, and scrawls a new symbol to represent them: the guardian flame of Hestia, combined with the bell of…well, Bell.

I’m duly impressed by the speed with which DanMachi II has gotten things done. Here I was loathing a long, drawn out, multi-episode arc involving just the war game with Apollo, complete with constant reaction shots from the assembled spectators, changes in momentum, and cliffhangers.

Instead, the show understood that, outnumbered 100-5, the Hestians had to get shit done in a hurry if they wanted to win. And they did, in a superbly breathless battle helped in no small part by a cinematic orchestral soundtrack by Inai Keiji that absolutely fucking OWNS. Nice to see the little guys win one going away.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 06

Akira is more than just her infatuation with Kondou; she’s just choosing to dedicate all of her headspace to him at the cost of everything and everyone else. I’m not judging her choice—I have no right to, and don’t even really disagree with it—I’m just stating the facts here.

One of the casualties is Kyan Haruka, who has been friends with Akira for ages. Theirs is a friendship that endured being separated for their last year and change of junior high. They said they’d be back together again, and then they were. Then Akira was injured and was torn away from the thing she loved most,  and the primary reason for their hanging out: running.

Haruka now finds herself in the unintentional, unfortunate position of being a constant reminder of what Akira has lost. That can wear down a friendship in a hurry, so when Haruka spots Akira at a bookstore, she’s weary of approaching her (especially after their last, not-so-smooth encounter) and almost seems relieved when Akira’s co-worker appears.

It’s not just Haruka keeping her distance. Even when Akira doesn’t have her head in the clouds about Kondou, when she spots Haruka, her friend is seemingly constantly being orbited by a host of other runners. It’s not intimidating per se, but perhaps too brazen for her to be able to handle.

This week’s episode covers Akira’s latest efforts to court Kondou while Haruka seeks a way to reconnect, and while that’s about it in the plot department—and that’s all very nicely done—what truly made this a treasure (and a 9) for me was the wonderful atmosphere, and the amount of breathing space one has within the episode.

After the flashback to Akira and Haruka, we’re treated to a virtually dialogue-free montage of Akira getting on with her day: missing a bus; trekking in the Summer heat; catching a gorgeous view of the town; and going to work.

It’s a beautiful and effective way of showing us that there is indeed more to Akira than her Kondou crush or Haruka troubles. She’s her own person, living life and taking the time to stop and enjoy its scenery.

While waiting for a bus, Akira hears from two younger girls about the magical romantic properties of a certain rare cat keychain, and attacks the dispenser with her yen, gaining dozens of keychains, but none of them the one she needed.

It’s while she’s obsessively turning the crank when Haruka spots her. She hides at first, but when Akira doesn’t stop buying keychains, she intervenes, as a good friend should.

Their ensuing time together is rather distant, but cordial. After all, these two have no particular beef; they’re both victims of circumstances that have limited their interactions of late. But Akira gives Haruka some duplicate keychains she has, and before parting ways at cram school, wishes her good luck at practice.

Haruka and I both agree that “good luck” is an olive branch on Akira’s part; and an acknowledgement that just because Haruka can run and she can’t doesn’t mean she hates her.

I tellya, the skies just keep getting better and better in this episode, like the brewing thunderstorm near dusk when Haruka does a practice run. She remembers Akira’s smile earlier in the day, as well as the keychain(s) she gave her, and Haruka is suddenly taken back to the day she learned why Akira always ran so fast and far ahead of her despite her protestations.

It’s not because she doesn’t like Haruka, it’s because she loves the feeling and sound of the wind that one only gets from running. When Haruka says she guess she understands what she’s on about, Akira beams so brightly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruka fell for her right then and there. She certainly caught the running bug after that day.

Haruka doesn’t want to lose the person who made her realize how fun running was, especially when it was with that person. So the next day she tosses a plastic egg to Akira, who opens it to find not only the rare black keychain she couldn’t get on her own, but a note from Haruka clarifying (or hoping) that their friendship isn’t just about track and field.

I’m guessing Akira is grateful for Haruka’s gift, because it then proceeds to work immediately, and she finds herself in the same library where Kondou happens to be. Akira brings up classic Japanese literature (his fave) and asks if he’d recommend anything; he tells her that’s not the best way to discover books, since everyone has different tastes.

He then invites her to explore the library, which he likens to a sea of books, and see what sticks out. She thinks it’s more of an aquarium than a sea, and her surroundings change to match that feeling. She settles on a track-and-field picture book and the famous Souseki novel Botchan.

Juxtaposed with Haruka standing at a bus stop proudly displaying one of the keychains Akira gave her, Akira stands beside Kondou, offering to borrow a book for him to read. Window by the Wave by Kujou Chihiro jumps out at him. They settle up at the front desk, then walk a little ways together before parting for the night, and I can’t help but think finding that book created the tiniest little rift in their flow.

For while Akira was “called” to the library where Kondou was by her black cat keychain, Kondou seems to believe he might’ve been called there by Window on the Wave, calling the author by her first name. Could this book have been written by his ex-wife?

Finally, while walking home the rest of the way, Akira repeats in her head Kondou’s words about a book “calling out to her”, when all of a sudden a gust of wind kicks up and reveals a majestic full moon.

The sight, sound, and feeling of that wind called to mind the same sensations one experiences whilst running at top speed; the feeling she’s loved far longer than she’s loved Kondou.

Little Witch Academia – 23

The first half of this week chronicle’s Chariot du Nord’s rise and fall from stardom, undone by a fickle public, the constant need to create bigger, flashier magic, and her school rival Croix still having a score to settle.

Such is Croix’s spite for the Claimh Solis choosing Chariot over her, she decides to exploit Chariot’s desire to make ever larger crowds happy by giving her the Dream Fuel Spirit…without mentioning the costs until after she’s already used it.

Of course, Croix has rhetorical cover: Chariot did essentially ask her old classmate for more power, and didn’t ask any questions, so none were answered.

One night, desperate to be relevant, Chariot uses the Shiny Rod and inadvertently scars the moon, and that’s pretty much it for Chariot.

Back in the present, Akko is still missing, and it feels like the longest we haven’t seen her in the entire run of the show. Something’s up, and Akko’s friends—Diana chief among them—want to do something about it. They all go looking for her, and when Diana doesn’t get the answers or action from Ursula, nay, Chariot, she finds Akko on her own.

It had been an 8 episode up to the point Diana sprang into action, and that’s when we enter more of a 10 territory (my rating splits the difference). Not only has Diana come to consider Akko a dear friend, but she manages to cheer that friend up and get her out of her funk.

It’s the first time Diana admits to Akko that she too was a Chariot superfan; that her momentary loss of magic was due to seeing that show, but she then worked hard to regain her magic, and even though her family thought she was being silly and childish, she never completely gave up on the dream to be like Chariot…which is why she initially resented Akko so much.

This is Diana at her most dimensional and likable: when she of all people has to lift the spirits of who had been until last week, almost criminally high-spirited proportional to her actual magical progress. Brass tacks: Diana tells Akko no one’s magic is stronger than hers, and she believes in her believing heart.

With that, Akko is reinvigorated, and her friends file into the store to express their relief she’s okay. I have a feeling all of them may have to be at their best for the upcoming trials, as Croix is nearing completion of her Noir Fuel Spirit-driven World Reconstruction Magic.

As powerful as we know Chariot to be, it’s not unrealistic to assume Croix’s confidence is at least somewhat based in her empirical research of Chariot herself, and knows for a fact she’s no threat. Of course, that may only be Chariot as she is now, still known to most as Ursula, drowning in regret and self-loathing.

If Chariot could be lifted out of that mire, like Diana & Co. did for Akko, perhaps then Croix will have something to worry about (here’s hoping!). This turned out to be a lovely episode. It’s so good to see Diana shine, and it was also fascinating to see Akko legitimately down for once.

All that’s really left is to find out if and how Croix is foiled, and whether that takes the remaining two episodes, or will be wrapped up next week. Leaving the final outing for epilogue.