Kakegurui – 07

When I first saw Midari with her eyepatch, I assumed combined with the piercings and arm bandages that she was simply fusing Chuunibyou and delinquent aesthetics into her personal style. But the eyepatch is functional, covering up the fact she has no left eye.

In the past, Midari was a gifted gambler, but never found any happiness from her victories or the doors it opened. So when she ran herself into nearly $3 million in debt, President Tsubomi offered to buy her eye for just the amount she owed.

Before a surgery can be arranged, Midari gouged out her own eye right there, intriguing Tsubomi enough to call them square and offer a place on the council, which Midari eventually took.

From that self-eye-gouging moment, Midari learned what it was could fill the hole in her heart: the pain and fear of dying she gets from her particular brand of gambling. In her three-round cards-and-pistols game with Yumeko, she wins the first round, but loses the second when Ryouta realizes he should arrange the cards exactly the way Yumeko did, because that’s what he believes she’d want him to do.

When it’s Yumeko’s turn to fire, she doesn’t have the slightest amount of fear of either dying or kiling Midari. For one thing, she can tell from the slight difference in weight that she’s holding her own gun, which has no bullets. That leaves them tied, one game each.

In the final round, Ryouta notices that the image of the two players is reversed on his monitor, and accuses Midari of cheating, but Yumeko saw through it all along, as Ryouta’s image was also reversed, and she played accordingly. Furthermore, Yumeko is not amused by this dull trickery, which seems intended to assure that Midari loses the game.

Midari is trying to get that feeling of gouging her own eye out, spurred on by the President who will never have her. In Yumeko she sought a “schemer” like Tsubomi who she could count on to “dominate” evry part of her her in every way.

She ultimately wants Yumeko to kill her, unsatisfied with Tsubomi’s promise to eventually do so. Suffice it to say, Yumeko won’t play this game, not because it’s morally repugnant, but because Midari is being selfish by trying to hoard all of the pain for herself.

In Yumeko’s ideal, both sides feel death’s cruel skeletal fingers scratching at their door. In this rather rote S&M scenario, it isn’t even that Midari expects Yumeko to get off on dominating her…she simply doesn’t care if or how Yumeko at all; only whether she, Midari, gets her pain, release, and death. Yumeko gets nothing, and that pisses her off, flashing her scariest face yet.

With the third round complete, ending in a draw (Yumeko chose all her cards wrong to thwart any chance of winning), she gets up and walks out, their business completed. And while Midari got off one more time from Yumeko’s utter rejection, it looks like that will be the last time ever, if Yumeko has anything to say about it.

We’ve never seen Yumeko as angry about something as she is at Midari, and it speaks to her fundamental humanity in spite of her seeming super-human senses and gambling skill. People like Midari piss her off most because they’re only in it for themselves, while Yumeko’s happiest moments occur in which someone else gets something out of it, whether it’s a stern lesson in not underestimating her, a shot at redemption, or simply a shared joy over a gamble well-played.

This is why despite getting all worked up in Midari’s dungeon, Yumeko is back to her pleasant self, and I don’t even think she’s putting on a mask. Instead, she seems to take solace in the fact that Ryouta was there with her, and the two were in sync enough to foil Midari’s underhanded, self-destructive plans. I don’t think Yumeko is stringing Ryouta along. I think she values his friendship, and treats him how he treats her: with kindness and respect.

Oh yeah, also, Mary utterly refuses to join the student council, and Tsubomi can believe whatever she wants is the reason, Mary won’t tell her. Of course, we know why: while one could argue that having an “inside man” on the council could be useful in an inside-out rebellion, it’s just as likely the council would change her than vice-versa.

Instead, Mary won’t legitimize a council that treats “livestock” like an inferior race and uses life plans to practice eugenics. She’ll seek a way to destroy it from the outside.

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Kakegurui – 06

Following her stunning victory, Mary is approached by her former entourage, who offer a half-hearted apology…that she accepts, and things are back to the way they were before she became a Miké.

She doesn’t seem to hold a grudge for how they treated her; written or unwritten, they abided by the rules and traditions of the school with regard to treatment of livestock.

But they also revealed something about the school’s enrollment: one need not be in debt to be livestock. These three girls aren’t technically Mikés, but they are another kind of livestock: they never lead; they only follow, even unto the slaughterhouse.

Momobami and the council seem interested only in those who break out of that mold; in someone like Yumeko, who has yet to pay her debts and be relieved of Livestock status even though she has the funds…and like Mary, the “girl who became a human.”

No one truly knows why Yumeko maintains her Miké status, but it’s assumed its so she can challenge the council to another offical match, and it’s assumed the one she wants to gamble with the most is the president, Momobami Kirari. But she doesn’t get Momobami; not this time.

Instead, she’s intercepted and arrested by the council member she’ll have to play with first in order to get to Momobami; Beautification Committee chairman (and noted gun nut and lunatic) Ikishima Midari.

Midari has her stylish gal-goons take Yumeko (and Ryouta) to a dank interrogation chamber in the bowels of the school, where they’ll play an “ESP card game” in which they guess which cards will be drawn in the adjacent room. Each correct guess means a point, and the person with the most points gets to fire one of two .357 Magnum revolvers loaded with anywhere from zero to six bullets.

Knowing what we know about Midari, it’s a very Midari game (what with the large amount of pure chance involved), and if Yumeko is worried, she doesn’t let on, keeping her calm, cool face throughout. However, Midari also sees in Yumeko a slightly more buttoned-up version of herself: a pervert who gets off on gambling to fulfill her appetites.

Making Ryouta deal the cards that he believes will determine the fate of two women is a great exercise to toughen him up (or just make him a nervous wreck), while Midari agrees that if she loses, she’ll pay Yumeko a cool billion yen ($9 million).

Following a fairly routine pattern in this show, Yumeko loses the first of three rounds by one point, giving Midari the first shot. Since she fully loaded her pistol, Midari has at least a 50-50 chance of shooting her. If Yumeko loaded any bullets into hers, the odds are better. Of course, either of the guns could backfire, which could be why Yumeko warns Midari not to fire when the time comes.

Yumeko always seems to gamble like her life (and certainly her enjoyment) is on the line, so as theatrical and wild as Midari is, this is simply a more raw and concentrated version of the feeling Yumeko craves. I forsee both parties coming away from this not only alive, but…satisfied.

As for Mary, she’s the one intercepted by President Momobami, who doesn’t mince words over tea: she wants Mary to join the council. Clearly, she sees potential in her. Mary may not be as nuts as Yumeko, but she’s definitely going places.

Kakegurui – 05

I may have bristled at least week’s structure (spend the entire first half introducing Ikishima, someone not involved in the second half’s gambling) but it was a blessing in disguise, putting a welcome kink in the gamble-a-week rhythm of the show to this point. Also, a poker game this layered with lies, deceit, and glorious twists needed more than two halves of an episode; it needed three.

Liberated from the need for setup (ably achieved in the first half) the crazy-faces showed up early and often here, as did the twists, the most important one being that the moves of the seemingly superfluous fourth player, Tsubomi, are being controlled by Kiwatari, the only non-livestock in the game.

Tsubomi and Mary are aware of this (Tsubomi isn’t so great at hiding the cheating), but in the tenth and final game, when Kiwatari tells Tsubomi she’s not allowed to beat him, Tsubomi does her stuff: painstakingly picking and peeling back the emotionless facade Tsubomi had built to repress the trauma of losing her beautiful locks of hair, roughly hacked off by Kiwatari himself once she became livestock.

Tsubomi tells her that losing intentionally here, when she has a perfect opportunity to prove she’s not “lifelong livestock”, would be like a “motionless pig in an open cage.” Unable to accept that, Tsubomi’s facade cracks, beats Kiwatari in the round, and becomes a human again.

The game would have ended with Tsubomi in first place, if the chip count, which we’d been getting from Kiwatari, was accurate. Turns out that is the last and final twist in the game: Mary and Yumeko falsified their debt reports (just like Kiwatari did), then swapped them, so the boards in front of them at the card table gave Kiwatari the wrong figures to do his math throughout the game.

It’s a total defeat brought on by Kiwatari’s confidence in his control over Tsubomi, as well as his hard-headed belief he can judge everyone as if they were cut from the same cloth. Meanwhile, Tsubomi may still technically be livestock, but regained her will to live and fight for solvency.

The council secretary Igarashi worries about what Pandora’s Box President Momobari (whom she seems to love) has opened by allowing someone as inscrutable as Jabami Yumeko to roam free. However, when Igarashi says “the usual things” that one can use to control a person don’t work on her; she’s not entirely right.

I have no doubt if Yumeko’s friends were threatened, she wouldn’t stand by and do nothing. And now Yumeko has two friends—Ryouta and Mary—who may be leveraged against her in the future. We’ll see how she deals with that as she faces off against more and stronger opponents.

Kakegurui – 04

Gentleman that he is, Ryouta offers Yumeko a small contribution of 1 million yen ($9000 US) but she tells him she’s got cash on hand; the council hasn’t yet come to collect her massive debt. Instead, she, Mary, and other livestock are presented with “Life Plans.”

With these, the council is “collecting” by taking ownership of Yumeko and Mary’s futures and planning them out accordingly, stripping them of all human agency. In Mary’s case, she’ll marry a lolicon Diet member and have three kids, grow old, and die. Yumeko is likely in for a similar fate.

We also learn there’s yet another downside to being livestock: non-livestock like towering brute Kiwatari feel empowered to demand, say, that Yumeko strip in a dark corner of the school.

When she refuses, he threatens to violate her. With Kiwatari and his two goons to deal with, the noble Ryouta is hopelessly outmatched, but still looks ready to try rescuing her.

That’s when the “fun” is interrupted by piercing and accessory-laden student council member and Beautification Committee chairman Ikishima Midari. Rather than outright stop Kiwatari’s assault, Ikishima challenges him to a round of Russian Roulette with a massive revolver. Kiwatari retreats, so she retires to a bathroom stall to play alone.

Ikishima (voiced by unhinged-girl extraordinaire Ise Mariya; see Aku no Hana), like Yumeko, literally gets off on the thrill of gambling, but takes it to a very visceral extreme, playing with her very life rather than chips or cards. Yumeko promises she’s repay her for saving her, and Ikishima seems very excited at the chance to collect.

That first half is to introduce Midari, but she plays no role in the remainder of the episode, which is given over to the “Debt Adjustment Assembly.”

Livestock are invited to play Blind Man’s Bluff (AKA Indian Poker) in order to try to transfer their debt to someone else in exchange for a lower sum—a much lower sum in Yumeko’s case. And just Mary’s luck: she ends up in Yumeko’s group…and Kiwatari’s there too.

Two issues: First, so much time was spent on the intro of Kiwatari and Ikishima that this game is left unfinished. Unless Ikishima plays a role in this gamble next week, it would have made more sense to save her intro for later, establish Kiwatari as a rapey dick quickly and efficiently during the game, and have the whole game contained within this episode.

Second, while BMB is a fairly simple game, the way it’s employed here, and the way it’s explained, threatens to sap all of the enjoyment out of the proceedings. It’s very convoluted and requires a lot of words—too many, in fact—to get the point across of what is going on.

Still, I enjoyed watching Mary utterly reject the life plan the council (and that stupid “kiddy” council member in the bunny suit) laid out for her, as no matter how comfortable and happy a life it might be, it’s not a life she chose. This motivates her to put in an effort to try to claw out of her situation.

She even breaks out her crazyface, as does Kiwatari (the latter looking for all the world like he wouldn’t be out of place in Attack on Titan), but Yumeko doesn’t join the party. She remains quite calm as the episode pretty abruptly ends without any resolution.

Surely more wrinkles will be added to the game as things escalate, but of all the ways Kakegurui could shake up its formula, giving half an episode over to two character intros and then rolling credits before a game can finish didn’t quite work for me, especially when the game itself required so much narration to lay out.

Kakegurui – 03

Upon watching the “official match” between Mary and porcelain-faced council member Nishinotouin Yuriko, Yumeko becomes excited at the prospect of the chouhan bakuchi style game they play, in which swords are used rather than dice, and how they land determines the distribution of chips to a wild extent.

It’s not a gamble for the weary, but as Yumeko is a compulsive gambler, it’s perfect. However, if I didn’t know better, I’d say there was more to her facing off against Yuriko than simply wanting to play or win, and that gets back to Saotome’s humiliating, devastating loss to Yuriko in the episode’s opening moments.

Yumeko takes exception to Yuriko “showing a weakened human a glimmer of hope than beating them into despair” and calls the councilperson a loan shark, the lowest of the low, and a piece of shit to her face. She even messes with the characters in her distinguished name to show that her favorite numbers are right there, but missing a couple in the middle, a “perfect name for an airhead.”

This is Yumeko exercising psychological warfare on a highly accomplished and studied opponent—and largely succeeding. And while there is a practical purpose for getting Yuriko riled up, I don’t doubt Yumeko also takes satisfaction in putting Yuriko in her place, suggesting she won’t let people like her have their way with livestock unchallenged.

Add to that the fact that, naturally, Yumeko’s opponent is cheating (with the dealer using magnets to manipulate one—but only one—of the metal swords), and it looks like this gamble will take the same shape as the previous two, with Yumeko prevailing at the last second and Yuriko’s mask finally cracking and breaking.

However, we get a different outcome, and notably no overt “gamblingasm”. Instead, Council President Momobami enters with two other council members, to oversee the result of the sword toss, which is something neither Yumeko or Yuriko expected, and puts Yumeko 310 million yen (over $2 million) in debt to Yuriko.

Momobami’s presents makes Yumeko suspect she was not only the victim of magnets, but a “badger”, and that this was a multifaceted cheat that may have required the ignorance of both players. Yuriko may have won, but she certainly doesn’t look or seem to feel like she won. Meanwhile, despite her immense new debt, all Yumeko is focused on is facing off against Momobami, which is her right as newly-minted livestock.

As for the hazing and bullying that results from her initiation into the livestock, it runs off Yumeko like rain from a fireman’s hat; when they call her the common cat name “Mike”, she simply gets on her knees and starts talking and washing herself like a cat, completely immune to the students barbs and, on the contrary, scaring them off with her bizarre antics. Here’s hoping this is a preamble to Yumeko becoming an inspiration to all livestock.

Kakegurui – 02

Yumeko considers Ryouta a friend—even to the point of first-name terms—but he doesn’t seem like her romantic interest. At the moment, that seems to be gambling itself, with only the highest of risks giving her any kind of pleasure. But the OP strongly suggests a very close relationship to come with the yuki-onna-looking student council president, Momobari Kirari.

In a bit of necessary exposition, Ryouta tells Yumeko that ever since Mombari rose to power (winning her position from the predecessor with gambling, natch) the bullying of the “livestock”—the 100 or so students with the least luck and hence most debt—has intensified exponentially. Thanks to Yumeko’s gift, Ryouta is no longer a “Fido”, but after her defeat Mary is a “Lassie”, and doesn’t take to it well.

But Yumeko has little time to concern herself with those she’s already beaten; she seeks a stronger opponent, and this week they come to her: the youngest member of the council, first-year Sumeragi Itsuki, daughter of a multi-billion-yen toy company CEO.

Itsuki challenges Yumeko to a game of “Double Card Memory” involving two freshly-opened decks of cards provided by Itsuki and—as I figured—also manufactured by her dad’s company so that she can cheat people.

For the second straight week, it would appear that those at the top of the pile at Hyakkaou Academy aren’t there by playing by the rules or even being exceptionally lucky—it’s more a matter of creating a way to make your own luck.

In the case of Sumeragi Itsuki, she uses a tiny part of the back-of-card design to let her know which deck is which on the table. Once she beats Yumeko in the first match—winning the 20 million she fronted Yumeko—Yumeko tearfully begs her for a rematch, even agreeing to go along with what Itsuki wants Yumeko to front: her fingernails and toenails, which Itsuki obsessively collects and decorates. Ew!

Unfortunately for the freshman, Yumeko not only has exceptional memory, but saw through her trump, and never gives her an opportunity to flip a single card in the rematch. It’s only when Itsuka goes a bit mad that Yumeko gladly joins in the madness. And when she recommends Itsuka wager her nails, it reduces her opponent to big soppy tears.

Yumeko responds to the shameless display with disgust; after a second “gamblinggasm”, Yumeko has been made officially “bored” by the simpering Itsuka. On to the next victi-er, opponent.

President Momobari quickly hears of Sumeragi’s defeat and Yumeko’s quick rise, and instructs the rest of the (very eccentric) student council to start “meddling in her affairs,” clearly intrigued by this newcomer and eager to test the limits of her prowess—if they indeed exist!

Ryouta accompanies Yumeko to the after-hours games at the traditional culture research club, and come upon yet another pathetic scene: Saotome Mary digging her debt-hole over 49 million yen deeper. I wonder if this will be an ongoing thing with Mary losing more and more, or if Yumeko will find it in her heart to save her first victim the same way she saved Ryouta, who was only ever nice to her.

In any case, I’m enjoying the friendliness and politeness with which students challenge one another, a facade which gradually devolves into face-contorting madness, over-the-top posturing and yelling, and the aforementioned “gamblinggasms.” Kakegurui can be thick on the explaining, but is generally just flat-out fun.

Kakegurui – 01 (First Impressions)

Suzui Ryouta is an unexceptional student at the prestigious Hyakkaou, a gambling academy for the children of the super-rich. Suzui gets into such great debt to Saotome Mary that he becomes her “house pet.”

Already, we’re into Prison School territory with Kakegurui, what with a powerful woman in charge, a mostly-innocent boy under her heel, and a mood not afraid to get a little kinky about it.

Of course, Suzui isn’t totally innocent—he did gamble after all—but he’s in an unenviable position at the start of the story, and feels like there’s no hope. That is, until hope arrives in the person of Jabami Yumeko, an elegant raven-haired maiden initially appears to be both the visual and emotional yin to the blonde Mary’s yang.

Of course, Jabami is way too suspiciously affable and bubbly; it’s clear even if one didn’t watch the sultry, hedonistic OP that she’s a hustler and that Saotome Mary is her latest mark. Be forewarned: is a show that revels in twisting up its characters’ faces to disturbing degrees.

Saotome challenges Jabami to a friendly game of the “Rock-Paper-Scissors Voting Game”, which combines RPS and an extra element of imbalance due to the randomness of the votes.

Jabami wins a couple of two-chip hands but also lets Saotome win a couple of far larger ones involving a million yen—all to put Saotome in a false sense of confidence while determining how Saotome is using the assembled voters (many in her debt, like Suzui) to cheat.

Once Saotome drops the nice act and shows Jabami her “war mask”, Jabami has no more reason to hide her own: buying back in to the tune of ten million yen cash before having what could be described as a “gamblegasm” whilst striking a pose.

The only RPS hand that matters is the final one, in which Jabami walks away with a cool 8.8 million yen (around 77,000 USD) after subtracting her initial losses. Rather, she walks away with Mary 8.8 million in her debt, which seems like a far worse place to be.

Suzui, ashamed that he was compelled to help Saotome cheat (which Jabami picked up on by spying on him with her compact mirror), apologizes to her and vows to drop out of an academy in which he feels he has no business being. To his shock, Jabami earnestly thanks him for the fun gambling she was able to experience on her first day, and drops a fat stack in his hand to back up her words with green.

And there you have it: Gambling school, weird over-the-top twisted expressions, some light S&M, and some (so-far) elemental but promising characters. MAPPA delivers a solid production with bold lighting, visceral sound, and a red-and-black palette appropriate to the gambling theme. Performance-wise, it’s a delight to hear Hayami Saori as Jabami shift from meek to meaty on a dime. Definitely worth a look.

Kuzu no Honkai – 11

While on a train to a weekend hot springs getaway with Kanai (two adults! How often does that happen in anime?) Akane falls asleep (she later blames being with the younger Mugi last night). She dreams she’s in a gallery of all the men she’s had, and all the lines she supposedly crossed, while either not realizing it…or not caring.

The distinction is moot; what matters is the reason: she’s never felt truly connected with anyone. In the dream, Kanai asks her why she “keeps doing this” if, as she herself said, she’s not “suited for it.”

Like last week, there’s only one brief scene involving Hanabi, and it’s one in a situation we’ve barely seen her in: hanging out with high school peers she hasn’t laid with. They view her and Mugi as some kind of ideal couple, and we the audience, like Hanabi, can only roll our eyes and say If they only knew.

When Hanabi tells them how she thinks it’s best if she and Mugi don’t see each other, they call her “such a grownup”, and considering everything she’s been through in such a short time, and the satisfying end result of Kanai’s rejection and Mugi’s, er, “moving on,” I tend to agree.

Even the contrast between the girls’ food orders and her plain ol’ coffee seem to help her exude a wisdom beyond her years. She’s been through some stuff; they haven’t. If they actually have, this show didn’t have time to show it.

Last week Akane didn’t like her dynamic with Kanai, in which she he was occupying far too much of her thoughts for her comfort. Trying to move on by telling all, if anything only intensified Kanai’s feelings for her. She’s in a nonchalant “okay let’s see where this goes” mode when they start off on the hot springs trip, but by the end, she starts to notice her heart beating.

No one has been able to throw Akane off like Kanai throws her off here. He tells her he’s fine with her messing around because he thinks she does it because she likes it, as opposed to never having known anything else. The flaws she’s always thought kept her from connecting are of no concern to Kanai, and his love for her isn’t transactional; it’s unconditional, almost paternal.

That unconditional love, and his desire for her to live a happy life, wipes clean those portraits in her dream gallery, replacing them with the image of her and Kanai. She finally feels connected. It’s something entirely new to her, but she doesn’t dislike it, and the next morning when Kanai goes for it and asks if she’ll marry him, she decides to give it a try.

Now that she’s ready to take that step, her first date with Mugi is more about closure than anything else; even Mugi realizes this. For so long he tried to find out how he could change her, but in reality, the Akane he loved was the one who existed; not the ideal he hoped to help create.

It’s clearly shitty for Mugi to see the change in her once she announces her marriage, knowing he had nothing to do with that change. But like Kanai’s rejection of Hanabi, it’s also freeing. Mugi loved the way Akane was before she changed. But she has, and so I imagine he’ll move on. But he won’t forget her.

It will hurt for a while, but Mugi will be okay, just like Hanabi and Moca and Ecchan will be alright. With Akane and Kanai getting hitched, it will be interesting to see if Hanabi and Mugi attempt a relationship, only not as it was: rather than an pragmatic alliance of “replacements”, a genuine romantic pairing of two people who no longer consider themselves scum.

Kuzu no Honkai – 06

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Hanabi is tired of feeling empty, or that she’s being hollowed out. She wonders more what it’s like to play with peoples emotions; whether it feels as good as Akane makes it seem. She wants to claim everyone who likes her for her own – no mean feat, but she feels like she can’t not try.

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Because Akane doesn’t want Ecchan, Hanabi tries to cut her loose as quickly as possible to avoid complications and ruining their friendship. But Hanabi and Ecchan have already slept together, so their relationship is irrevocably changed.

Not only that, Ecchan won’t let go; she’s not simply giving Hanabi leave to use her, she’s insisting. And because of their bond, she knows Hanabi won’t resist. Indeed, Hanabi considers it just punishment for what she did to Ecchan.

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After recovering from a fever (likely brought on in part from the stress of dealing with all this shit) Hanabi goes into town and bumps into Takeya, the guy she and Mugi saw with Akane. As soon as I realized who it was, I knew some trouble was going to ensue. After all, Hanabi is on a mission to beat Akane at her own game.

I’ll allow the coincidence, because it results in some of the best inner monologue by Hanabi yet; a sometimes disturbing, sometimes hilarious play-by-play commentary of her interactions with Takeya. She starts out with Don’t touch me, don’t get near me, then the light bulb goes off.

Before our eyes and ears, she starts to put in play what Ecchan says Hanabi naturally has: a knack for nabbing guys. It rarely occurs to her that she’s an attractive being, since she doesn’t really trust anyone other than Onii-chan, and her own inner voice despises her.

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When she learns he knows he’s one of many and will “never have [Akane]” to himself, his value to her drops considerably, but not completely. Taking something of Akane’s – particularly someone so into her, is one of her goals, so even though she almost caves and sends Takuya away, she manages to salvage the situation.

Takuya is, for the most part, respectful and keeps his ears open to what Hanabi does and does not want, and agrees they’ll take things slow, and not go all the way their first time.

Hanabi’s closing inner remarks regarding their date are suitably devastating in their frankness, and indicate she might just be getting the hang of this: I’ll pretend with you as much as you want. Then you can fall for a fake version of me.

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Another thing Ecchan said to Hanabi is that there’s nothing wrong with having oneself be the only one who knows one’s true self. Akane doesn’t seem to let anyone else know. After that bit of advice, Hanabi considers whether Akane truly is happy, or is lonely and sad as she, just better at hiding it. There are no true answers to be had, as it should be.

As for Ecchan, she acts against Hanabi x Mugi, planting in his head the possibility that Hanabi is still “cheating” on him with another guy. Hanabi never told Mugi who she slept with, and actually is popular with the guys, so Mugi has no problem letting that seed sprout suspicion in his head. Ecchan is still very much gunning for Hanabi.

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Well now, that’s a pretty apt subtitle there! I was beginning to think Kuzu had forgotten about Moca. But then, Kuzu doesn’t do anything by accident. After a slightly jarring introduction in which we kind of had our fill of her, the show wisely kept her away, knowing her extended absence would be noted, and increasing the drama when she suddenly shows up at the end of this episode.

Moca gets to the point, with honesty and forthrightness that seems to tick Mugi off, calling it “unexciting” in his head. Moca probably doesn’t even know who Ecchan is, but inadvertently benefits from the doubt she planted in Mugi’s head, adding water and fertilizer to the sprout by telling him Hanabi doesn’t really want him.

Then fruit is borne: Mugi asks Moca on a date. If Hanabi can have her something on the side, why can’t he?

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The episode closes with Hanabi stringing Takeya along via text (I love her fireworks avatar, as that’s what her name means), continuing to play the field, her bedroom window open to the Summer night, the night before vacation starts.

It’s a long way from being feverish, under the covers, and completely at a loss for what to do or who she is. Hanabi is now on a mission, and her date with Takuya gave her confidence. She just looks more with it, even if she still very little to no idea what she’s doing, but I think that’s part of what she’s learning: you’re only as weak as you look to others.

Like Moca with Mugi or Ecchan with her, she also seems to understand that persistence is necessary to achieve her goal of beating Akane. She can’t stop; if she does, she’s back in bed, back in her head; empty, hollowed out, alone again. She’s only lost if she stops and thinks about where she is or isn’t.

She’s still certainly no match for Akane yet, but good God, imagine if she becomes a match…or even surpasses Miss Minagawa? As Ecchan says (and Mugi agrees), what makes Hanabi great is her “danger.” It should be an interesting Summer.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 05

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Hana believes Kanai has abandoned her, so seeks her “safe space”—or at least a space where she feels she belongs and doesn’t feel the weight of life crushing her—elsewhere. When Ecchan turns to face her in bed, Hana sees Akane for a moment. Akane seems to enjoy taking advantage of men.

Hana doesn’t seem to enjoy what transpired with her and Ecchan. Hana doesn’t seem to be sure what she likes or wants, which must make Akane’s apparent certainty and staunch confidence all the more vexing.

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Last week was light on Mugi, but he returns to the forefront with the revelation he’s known about Akane’s dalliances since he was dating senpai, who he only realizes now might’ve bitten his ear out of jealousy.

He still has her number; she shows up for a booty call, from his perspective almost out of obligation, as she was the one who popped his cherry. According to her, it’s the first time they did it when he wanted to, but she still doesn’t spend the night at the love hotel with him, considering them even.

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Like Hana with Ecchan, Mugi seems unfulfilled and insufficiently stimulated by his encounter with his senpai. After a period of him and Hana drifitng apart, one day on the roof they come back together. Hana can tell Mugi slept with someone else, and he can tell she did too.

They did it for the same reason: to test if they really needed each other, or if they could get what they needed elsewhere. The results weren’t as conclusive as either had likely hoped. Hana’s thoughts say they’re both terrible. I just think they’re both profoundly lonely and unhappy.

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Shift to Akane’s POV, as she grudgingly asks Kanai out, despite the fact he’s super-boring to her. That boring-ness continues throughout most of their date, until she drinks too many to compensate and he catches her before she falls in the street, accidentally calling her “Hana-chan.”…“-chan.”

Those words, not the catch, are the first things that get Akane interested. When she gets him in a room, and he asks permission, she brings up Hana as an object of envy, and he responds by kissing her and getting things started. Too easy says Akane. Indeed. The implication is, when things are too easy for Akane, watch out.

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Hana decides she wants to have sex with Mugi at his place. He has reservations, but he can’t deny her beauty, her honesty, the directness of her gaze, and her “hysteric, fickle, recklessly egocentric remarks.” So the two of them decide to break the rules of their arrangement and do something that could upset the uneasy balance that had been maintained.

But it’s Hana’s first time, and it hurts, so they stop. She’s not into it at all, but is still frustrated they can’t do it. Mugi thinks it’s because she doesn’t really love him. Just saying she loves him doesn’t work, and then Mugi insults her. The mood ruined, she gets dressed and leaves.

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Mugi sleeps alone, frustrated and depressed. Hana sleeps alone, frustrated and depressed. She wants to sleep with someone. She wants to fill the void of loneliness, but nothing is currently working, and it’s becoming unbearable.

Akane almost seems to sense her frustration, because the next day at school she walks past Hana to twist the knife, reporting on her conquest of Kanai. Ice. Cold.

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Charlotte – 05

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This week’s Charlotte begins with a rather unpleasant scene of Nao being dragged out of class and beaten behind the school by a mob of other girls. Yuu follows but doesn’t interfere, but what’s unclear is whether Nao is disappointed or glad about it. He presumes it’s what she gets for messing with people with her invisibility. He knows what it’s like to bear misdeeds; he’s perpetrated plenty of his own with his body-swapping.

And yet, while Yuu doesn’t play the role of the shining knight swooping in to save Nao from her tormentors, with or without his ability, Yusa and Joujirou both agree they’re “not an unpleasant couple to be around” due to their natural chemistry and spouse-like interactions. If they didn’t care about each other one way or another, they wouldn’t fight; that kinda thing.

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Nao believes the Council’s next target is up in the mountains near the city practicing his flying ability (the downside to the power is never mentioned). The best way she believes to do that is to set up camp and stake the place out indefinitely until they either spot him or he comes to them.

In the process of camping the group participates in typical group-bonding activites that take place during camping, like starting a fire, roasting corn, meat, and vegetables, playing video games, and stargazing. The latter is something only Nao and Yuu do, with the latter finding her alone listening to a group called ZHIEND, whose lead vocalist and composer is blind.

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In another indication Yuu and Nao are a somewhat fated couple, he gets the same feeling from the quiet music as she does: that of being in a vast, gorgeous, lonely open space. She even gifts him her music player, excited as she is to find a fellow fan. The music makes Yuu remember the face of girl who looks a lot like a younger Ayumi but who he doesn’t know, but he’s woken from the dream when it’s his turn to keep watch.

On the second night of the camping stakeout, Yuu and Jou bathe in the river, where Jou tells Yuu it’s best if he set romantic plans aside until two years from now, when they’ll lose their abilities. It makes me wonder if this show will let us see that future and how it changes these classmates and colleagues who are gradually becoming friends.

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It really is a journey-not-destination kind of episode, as the flying kid mission is wrapped up extremely easily. Yuu swaps bodies with him and ends up several thousand feet above the ground (an awesome sight, to be sure), and when he comes down softly but slightly banged up, less than a minute of convincing from Nao persuades the guy to stop using his ability.

Back home, there isn’t much pizza sauce left, and so Yuu gets his first tolerable meal frmo Ayumi in a long time. He also manages to convince her not to put it in everything, finally. But then Ayu starts coughing, and her temperature is 37.8, prompting Yuu to get her under a futon. Hopefully Ayumi doesn’t get sicker as a prelude to the awakening of her own power; but I’ll admit that’s not outside the realm of possibility.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 17

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With Takeo and Rinko’s relationship secure (as if there was going to be any doubt) after the Mariya Incursion, and Christmas approaching, Rinko asks Takeo if it would be okay to celebrate with her friends and his friends, and he’s find with it. After all, they’re on cloud nine, and they’re united in their desire to spread the love and happiness; paying it forward, if you will. And with one of each of their friends, Nanako and Kurihara, at the dating ten-yard line, they want to do everything they can to help.

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They end up doing just that…and it’s just too much. Combined with their own usual lovey-dovey behavior towards each other, Rinko and Takeo carefully set everything up so Nanako and Kurihara are together, and it puts a lot of pressure on both of them. Kurihara deals with that pressure by doing a lot of nervous laughing and joking, while Nanako seems to coil up into a ball of irritation, not to mention confusion over Kurihara’s words and gestures and the meaning behind them.

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She finally just leaves the karaoke booth, and as Rinko chases after her, a trio of roughs start bothering them. Kurihara does the practical thing: when he sees what happens, he runs off to get Takeo (who intimidated these same roughs in the cold open without even trying or, indeed, knowing they existed). But that makes Nanako even madder; why couldn’t he rescue her himself? She continues fleeing, and when Rinko tries to follow, she snaps at her that not everyone can be like her and Takeo.

It’s a bit harsh, but it’s also true, and Takeo and Rinko know it. They came together naturally without overt outside assistance (they both recall Suna simply sitting back and quietly supporting/rooting for them without getting too hands-on. Yet again, watching a secondary relationship in the making helps this couple grow.

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Kurihara decides to be a man and make up for his misstep with the roughs by performing a feat of manliness: climbing the giant Christmas tree to the top to grab an ornament that, it is said, will help you get the person you like to go out with you. Obviously there’s no real power in the thing; it’s just a totem, but the gesture of getting it (as Takeo spots and ultimately catches Kurihara when he falls) and the feelings behind it are what move Nanako, who returns when Rinko tells her what Kurihara’s doing. The two have a very public mutual confession, to the delight of all around them, especially Takeo and Rinko. It happened, without them having to push too hard, or at all. They just had to let it.

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The aftermath to this is fantastic, with Kurihara and Nanako starting to act totally differently, and just as lovey-dovey as Nanako poo-pooed before her own relationship bloomed. Indeed, the lovebirds were holding hands before they were a couple, and literally hours after they became one, already got their first kiss out of the way.

That gets Rinko feeling down, and all of a sudden the tables are turned as now it’s Nanako who will offer advice—but hopefully not do too much—to see to it Rinko gets her first kiss from Takeo. And just like that, we have a fun new couple different from the main one, whose portrait was very quickly and efficiently painted this week. The love is spreading. Soon no one will be safe.

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Charlotte – 04

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I don’t dislike baseball, and while I probably wouldn’t watch an anime exclusively devoted to it, I do enjoy the occasional baseball episode (it was one of my favorite DS9 episodes, simply because it’s so fun and feel-good).

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This week’s Charlotte was one of those, and it turned out a lot like “Take Me Out to the Holosuite”, which featured a ragtag team of Sisko’s crew (many of whom never played baseball) against a superior team—or in the case of Charlotte, a team with an ace who uses telekinesis to pitch perfect games.

They’re not just playing for pride, either: Nao gets the pitcher to agree never to use his power again if they lose; warning him that to do so would invite unwanted attention and ultimately capture by evil scientists. She also points out that he’ll lose the power, and thus any change of getting to the Bigs, once he grows up, but he seems undeterred.

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The game that unfolds is a bit of a circus, what with new Hoshinoumi transfer student Yusarin transforming into Mika, who has above-average athleticism baseball “game sense”, but is limited by Yusa’s weaker, slower body. Joujirou is predictably an asset in getting to first in record speed, but Nao has to record his at-bat with a high-speed camera to prove to the ump via instant replay that he was indeed safe. And, of course, Yuu switches bodies with an opposing batter while manning first base, with his repeated fainting confusing the ump to no end.

Finally, Nao calls upon Yuu in the most important at-bat; one in which a base hit will give them the win. Unlike his usual M.O. of sneaking around and swapping bodies, Yuu must face something head-on. He goes down 0-2 quickly, but realizing the gravity of his position, he valiantly fouls off pitches until the pitcher tries a new angle that results in a passed ball, scoring the two runs they need to win the game and the bet.

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This week’s challenge for the Student Council turns out to be a little more interesting than the one-dimensional producer targeting Yusarin, because the pitcher wasn’t cheating for personal gain; he wanted to take his team as far as he could because he wanted his friend, the catcher, who has excellent natural ability without the use of powers, to be noticed by scouts. Nao respects the guy’s selfless motives, but tells him there are other ways to do that; ways that won’t get him locked up and experimented on.

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Perhaps Yuu also learned the benefits of facing problems head on, which would serve him well in the unending battle to get his sister to stop putting pizza sauce in his meals. This is getting pretty ridiculous: I know he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, but if he really doesn’t want pizza sauce in everything, he needs to confront her directly and tell her to please stop. I’m sure he could figure out a way to do it tactfully. Or better yet, have Yusa tell her for him! But not Mika. She’d probably spit in the food. ;)

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