Net-juu no Susume – 03

Sakurai receives a reply from Morioka first thing in the morning, and he looks nervous, but also excited. We later learn that it’s a gentle and respectful decline on his offer of dinner out of a misplaced sense of not wanting to “cause any more trouble” after he did so much for her post-elbowing. But it’s pretty clear Sakurai wants “trouble” from Morioka. Why offer dinner in the first place?

When he does research on her career at a prestigious Bussan, he learns both from his own research and his co-worker Koiwai (who interacted with before) that Morioka was an exemplary employee and businessperson…who suddenly resigned. A old photo of her confirms she’s the one he accidentally knocked over.

Perhaps he’ll learn, as we have, that despite being damn good at her job, it just wasn’t something she wanted to do anymore. She wants to be a NEET and play MMOs now, and if she can afford to, who’s to say she can’t?

I’ll say, from the perfect structure and syntax of her text message to Sakurai, Morioka’s business skills probably haven’t dulled that much. She’s a talented, capable woman. But she does get a bit nervous in any kind of social situations, which is why after sending her reply, Morioka feels as though a great weight has been lifted from her shoulders, and she goes out to buy some snacks, some beer, and some extra points for FdM.

There, she quickly receives a gift from Lily – a super-expensive coat, and wonders what the underlying purpose of the gift was, considering it will be hard to reciprocate considering its cost. Lily is briefly taken aback by the, well, accusation of ulterior motives, but cannot entirely plead innocence. In fact, she’s come to feel a deep connection for Hayashi and wants him to be her partner in the game.

It’s a big step, and even though it may be a while before Sakurai and Morioka connect the dots on who each other are in the real world, it’s a good sign that they’re growing close enough in-game that a truth-revealing real-world meetup won’t be out of the question down the road. Of course, Morioka needs to realize that she’s not the only one using an avatar of the opposite sex.

NjS is getting better and better as we spend more time with “Mori-Mori” and “Sakura-chan;” particularly their moments of victory and elation when things go well for them. The narrative method of switching between worlds rather than going “full-dive” (ala SAO, NGNL, or KonoSuba) also tethers the story and makes it feel more real. It’s a great balance other shows with similar themes lacked. The music’s pretty bangin’, too.

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Just Because! – 03

Izumi’s entanglement with Komiya Ena proves all to brief, as she’s forgotten the photo that she wants permission to submit. Showing zero consideration for Izumi, she zooms off on her moped to grab it, and it’s no surprise when she returns, in the rain, to find he’s gone.

The next day is Christmas (?), and everyone seems a bit listless, mimicking the somewhat grayish day with their moods. Izumi and Natsume type messages into LINE, but delete them without sending, seemingly hesitant to make any forward motion that will evoke a response from the other. It’s a stalemate, I tellya!

Things are dreary at Casa Morikawa too, as Morikawa confides to Yoriko that her life plan after high school doesn’t include furthering her trumpet performance, but rather college, a job, and eventually taking over the family business. It’s all said with the enthusiasm of someone inspecting turnips.

Left unsaid is any discussion of starting her own family, and as Morikawa seems almost criminally oblivious to Souma’s feelings (mostly his fault, BTW), that’s not surprising.

When Komiya reaches out to Natsume for info on Souma, Natsume uses it as an excuse/opportunity to message and meet up with Izumi. When they meet up, they’re still very cold and distant to one another, and the energy completely changes when Komiya spots her elusive transfer student.

Komiya’s casual nature with Izumi doubtless irks Natsume even more, since neither she not Izumi know what the heck they’re doing or what they should do. And while Komiya’s mission to get Izumi’s permission or LINE ID fails, she doesn’t seem like the type to give up easily.

Meanwhile, Souma is invited by Yoriko to join her and Morikawa for a walk, and his resulting meandering bike ride to their location is a constant source of suspense…will he ever get to them?

He does, only to freak out when Morikawa’s dog barks at him, which he thinks is a deal-breaker where dating her is concerned. Frankly, he should be more worried about, you know, telling her how he feels about her and asking her out on a proper date…but who am I?

When Souma reports the dog incident to Izumi and begs him for help getting better with dogs, Izumi tells him he has no pets, but Komiya stealthily enters the frame and offers her help…in exchange for Izumi’s LINE ID, which he gives her.

Interestingly, Komiya makes it clear she’s “over” the fact Izumi didn’t give her permission to use the photo, but with his ID, maybe she’s playing a longer game. Heck, maybe she just likes the cut of Izumi’s jib and wants to be friends…or more, which would complicate the love polygon even further.

Speaking of complications, Souma, unaware of the deal Izumi struck with Komiya, messages Natsume about helping him with dogs, since she has one too. This basically puts Natsume in the friendzone area of helping her unrequited crush get along with his own crush.

Over the most mundane circumstances, and in the absence of direct, honest, face-to-face conversation regarding how people feel about one another, the web of conflicting or one-sided romantic interests grows ever more tangled.

Net-juu no Susume – 02

Well, first of all, NJS has a solid OP. Great vocals, orchestration, and visuals. Really gets you pumped for the episode!

While exploring a dungeon deep into the night, Hayashi’s fellow guild member Lilac notices she’s always online, and guesses that she’s 21 and a university student, like her. That leads to the guildmaster Kanbe having to pay out for losing the bet on Hayashi’s real age.

Moriko feels bad for lying about her age, but is also relieved it won’t come up anymore. Meanwhile, Lily is pretty upfront about being older than Hayashi, and calls him “serious and kindhearted.” Moriko wants to tell Lily more, and wants to learn more about her, so they make a promise to do just that.

Fate strikes both Moriko and Lily’s player once again when he elbows Moriko (out to get cold medicine) while rounding a corner on his way to work (ironically, because he stayed up playing a netoge with Moriko!)

While out cold, Moriko meets an angel (perhaps her online friend from the previous MMO she played) and also enters a Brazil-style distopia in which endless columns of identitcal salarymen enter the Tower of Bebel only to jump into an abyss. Grim!

Moriko awakens in hospital, with a handsome young man with blond hair  sitting beside her bed. He’s Sakurai Yuuta, and he wants to make amends for accidentaly elbowing her. He leaves her his contact info and assures her she can text or call anytime, for any reason.

Moriko returns to FdM, where his comrades are ready and willing to hear what’s eating Hayashi. When he tells them, Lilac and Himeralda think it sounds like the intro to a romance manga and, thinking Hayashi’s player is a guy, urge him to ask her out…he may even get lucky!

Guildmaster Kanbe is more down-to-earth; nothing need be done except for what must: she should send a text thanking him at the very least and telling him she’s all good; as it would do no good to make him worry. Moriko agrees, and jumps offline to text Sakurai. She’s shocked to get an immediate reply asking if she’d let him take her out to eat as an apology.

Morioka likes this guy, but thinks he’s too good and too “blinding” for her, and a look in the mirror doesn’t help her confidence (though character design-wise, she’s hardly unattractive). Ironically, then it’s another encounter with Lily (i.e. Sakurai) that convinces her to send him a proper reply—which she sends at two in the morning!—though we’ll have to wait and see the contents of said reply.

Lily makes Morioka’s chest feel warm, reminding her that no matter how perfect someone may seem, everyone has problems and doubts, and she need not fear how someone who has already been so kind to her will regard her. The only way to know for sure is to move forward. Even eyebrow-plucking isn’t mandatory!

Just Because! – 02

Izuki reacts the way he does to Souma’s text about Natsume being at the school because, as we learn in another flashback, he liked her in middle school. Unfortunately for him, Natsume liked Souma, something Souma never knew.

Back in the present, Izuki and Natsume reunite in a similar situation, with Souma nearby with another girl, this time Morikawa. He’s unable to properly confess his feelings to her, but instead manages to invite her, along with Izuki and Natsume to the aquarium on the weekend.

Morikawa accedes to the wishes of her two little brothers and brings them along, further muddying the “date” waters for Souma, but he comports himself well, even earning the brothers’ trust and showing Morikawa he’s good with kids, which is definitely something she’d look for in a man…were she looking.

It’s a pleasant, cozy trip to the aquarium, and by the end Morikawa and Souma are virtually exuding warmth. As for Izumi and Natsume, well…they’re less warm together, even if I got the sneaking suspicion that Izumi still likes Natsume despite his aloof manner with her.

Similarly, the more time she spends with Izumi, the more comfortable she seems interacting with him. It’s far from lovey-dovey, but it’s a nice low-key resumption of their relationship.

While Souma and Morikawa have a kind of “talent anchor” (baseball and trumpet, respectively), I appreciate how Izumi nor Natsume don’t really have those anchors, and are also alike in being on the wrong side of an unrequited love.

With the benefit of future episodes—as well as the flashbacks they’ll likely contain—we’re sure to learn more about these kids and who likes whom, and what Komiya plans to do with Izumi now that she literally has him in her grasp. I like that JB! is taking the time to flesh out the various characters and not rushing things.

Net-juu no Susume – 01 (First Impressions)

After a super-catchy OP, we meet 30-year-old corporate dropout and “elite NEET” Morioka Moriko. Being a NEET, she has a lot of time on her hands, but her old go-to MMO, Nanter SG, is no longer available. She checks out a new one, Fruits de Mer, which she choses to play with a male avatar, Hayashi. When she fails again and again to defeat a rodent boss in a dungeon, a cute mage Lily comes to Hayashi’s aid, and Moriko is instantly smitten.

Moriko’s inexperience with interpersonal relationships (particularly romantic ones) is exposed in her dealings with Lily, who takes a liking to Hayashi as well, but Moriko starts avoiding her in order to collect a rare item to give her for Christmas—inadvertently making Lily feel alone and like she did something to make Hayashi avoid her.

Lily confides in Hime, a fellow guild member, and the guildmaster manages to discuss the issue with Hayashi, who never meant to hurt Lily. They meet in a tree and arrange a Christmas Eve date. In the real world, Moriko is out of food, and must venture out to the convenience store at the worst possible time: when it’s full of happy couples.

In that very same store, we meet the player who controls the Lily avatar, and like Moriko, he chose to play as the opposite sex. They both ask for the store’s last piece of Christmas chicken, but the guy yields it to Moriko after hearing her stomach’s “jingle bells.”

Aside from seeing from the in-game cash card she’s buying that she’s also a player of Fruits de Mer, neither the guy nor Moriko know they just cross paths with each other in real life, but when they meet as Hayashi and Lily, you couldn’t ask for a lovelier, more mirthful scene as they exchange gifts.

Having come so close to meeting once, I can’t help but hope Hayashi and Lily meet in the real world in earnest. After all, while both seem content spending their free time playing an MMO and meeting virtual friends, there’s an overarching sense of profound loneliness wafting off the two of them.

Moriko claims to have chosen to be a NEET, and was clearly put off by the couples in the store. But couples tend to be most annoying until you actually find yourself in one. I for one am glad to see an MMO-themed anime that actually spends time in both worlds, rather than just the fantasy one.

Koi to Uso – 12 (Fin)

Ririna doesn’t simply say she’s willing to abandon their arranged marriage for Yukari and Misaki’s sake; she lays out in a very detailed and realistic way exactly the way it’s going to happen, and it involves her and Yukari pretending like they hate each other’s guts—in other words, lying.

Yukari doesn’t like the sound of that one bit, as he doesn’t want to even pretend he doesn’t like Ririna. But Ririna appeals to Yukari’s deep and inspiring love for Misaki—without which Ririna would never have come out of her shell—and is able to get him to agree to her plan.

That means, at some point, if all goes as planned, Ririna will have herself “recalculated” to find another partner to marry, and asks Yukari to ‘show her what to do’, so to speak. The practical excuse aside, both Ririna and Yukari are lying here as well.

Ririna loves both Misaki and Yukari, so she doesn’t want to hurt either. What she fails to realize is that Misaki and Yukari have the same exact reason they don’t want to hurt her: they love her too. Forget about levels or tenure; love is love, and especially during one’s youth it can be extremely hard to distinguish one form for another.

As a result, Yukari initially stays away from the wedding dress fitting, convinced he’s hurt both Ririna (by agreeing to her plan) and Misaki (by kissing her in the chapel), and not wanting to cause any more pain to either. Nisaka shows up and lays it out as only Nisaka can: people who are hurt by loving him is not his problem; it’s theirs.

Nisaka speaks from experience here; he knows he’ll never have Yukari or even get him to look at him the way he wants…but he’s not going to bother him about it. He tells Yukari that when it comes to love, you have to look out for number one.

In Yukari’s case, he doesn’t feel comfortable living life without Misaki or Ririna. At the chapel, Misaki assures Ririna that her plan is impossible, because she, Misaki, loves both Ririna and Yukari. She couldn’t let Ririna drop her marriage to Yukari any more than Yukari or Ririna wanted to hurt Misaki by getting married.

It’s quite the conundrum! And certainly one for which there are no long-term answers. Presumably, Ririna and Yukari will one day marry, just as Misaki will marry her match (we finally learn definitively that she hasn’t received her notice yet). It would seem that love is not a problem for any of the three; it’s just a matter of learning what kind of love that is, and how that will (or won’t) jibe with cultural and societal norms.

Is this finale a cop-out that lets everyone off the hook by delaying a concrete decision on who marries whom? Sure is. But I asked for someone to win last week, and it would seem that, for now at least, everyone wins…Except Nisaka!

Ultimately, this show lacked the teeth that I had expected of a premise in which people were, if not outright forced, very strongly nudged into arranged marriages. As I’ve stated in earlier reviews, Japan’s appallingly low birth rate is a crisis that threatens the nation’s very existence. Drastic societal measures are needed that the notoriously unreliable bureaucracy likely won’t even begin to tackle until it’s too late.

Koi to Uso was initially, and could have remained, a fascinating look into the “what-if” scenario. But ultimately, The Yukari Law was little more than window dressing for a watchable but otherwise by-the-numbers youth-love-polygon show. It could have been much more, but would have had to go to darker places it clearly wasn’t interested in going.

Koi to Uso – 11

With Yukari, Ririna, and Misaki making little progress in discerning who’s going to end up marrying whom, the three (plus Nisaka) end up at…a wedding. Subtle. Ririna and Misaki are also recruited by the ceremonial hall’s marketing rep to model wedding dresses. Also subtle.

The wedding itself is highly scripted and a bit stiff, with all the usual traditions and nothing in the way of really breaking the mold. The individuals actually getting married seem a bit lost in the procedure of the thing.

Still, a wedding is a wedding, and Misaki and Ririna have a blast, and are glad they were able to attend together. Misaki echos Arisa’s assertion that Ririna has become more open and easier to talk to, and Riri attributes this to her time with Misaki and Yukari.

Misaki also says she’d love to see Ririna’s wedding, all but surrendering Yukari to her. But Ririna can probably sense the lack of conviction in those words, especially when she peeks in on Yukari comforting a crying Misaki with a big long kiss.

I’m sorry, but at this stage, Yukari is being a big fat jerk here. I’m sure Yukari didn’t like seeing Misaki cry, but kissing her will only provide the briefest relief if he ends up marrying Ririna, which, that’s the case, he shouldn’t be kissing other girls. Get your fucking shit together, man!

Ririna seeing Yukari kiss Misaki casts a pall over the rest of the episode, as Ririna and Yukari’s families join forces to mudge their betrothed kids a little closer together at a splendid hot springs inn, even putting them in the same room together.

Their tour of the town demonstrates their easy chemistry with one another, and the fact they both genuinely enjoy each other’s company. They’re not exactly setting the world on fire with their romantic passion, but who cares? They’re a nice, cute couple!

So after witnessing Yukari and Misaki kiss, and Yukari telling her how he’s the person he is today because he followed Misaki and admired her from afar like a goddess…in the night, Ririna decides to tell Yukari she thinks he should choose Misaki over her.

If Ririna and Misaki weren’t such good people and good friends, they wouldn’t be falling over each other trying to sacrifice their happiness for that of the other’s, but Yukari’s persistent indecision—and his appalling indiscretion where Misaki is concerned—has also led us to this point.

The only satisfying way Yukari can respond to this by either accepting or rejecting Ririna’s concession. I’m fine with both, honestly. I may have sounded like a Ririna x Yukari shipper of late, but I’m fine with either girl “winning.” As long as someone wins, dammit!

Oh, and throughout all of this, why haven’t Misaki and Nisaka received their notices? Are Yukari and Ririna really that much older than them? The fact we have no idea who their assigned spouses are leaves me worried the show’s withholding that info for a last-episode cliffhanger—perhaps even a prelude to a second season I neither want nor need.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 10

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Thinks are bad for the good guys: Ikoma is in prison, and Biba’s goons are harvesting blood from the Kotetsujou to feed the Kabane, and they’re not exactly being nice about it. Like Mumei, these are people who weren’t taught to think of the weak as people worthy of compassion, but in this case they’re more like livestock. It ain’t pretty.

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When I saw Biba alone in a car with Ayame, my skin crawled, because I knew he wouldn’t be honoring whatever deal he was striking with her. He only needs her until she can arrange an audience between him and his father the Shogun; after that all bets are off; that’s just how villains operate, and Biba is a pretty conventional villain.

He certainly has the look down, as well as the way he creepily wipes blood off Mumei’s cheek, after appeasing her with another promise he won’t keep: that the passengers of the Kotetsujou will not be harmed.

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That’s because a group of passengers are doing the one thing that will make Biba come down on them even harder: planning a revolt. Ikoma is the ringleader, taking note of the comings and goings of the key man. When the moment is right, he breaks out and the group strikes.

Sukari was portrayed early as someone who apparently betrayed his friends because he knew resistance was futile, but I had him pegged as a double agent pretty quickly, and that’s what it turns out he is, having helped slip intel to Ikoma, thus earning a measure of Takumi and Yukina’s forgiveness.

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When Biba gets word of the revolt, of course he makes Mumei choose to either take care of the disturbance—killing Ikoma and her friends in the process—or stop receiving the medication that’s keeping her virus from spreading and turning her into a full Kabane.

At the end of the day, this is Mumei’s most damning weakness: her utter dependence on her brother’s good side, which never really existed in the first place. He even lowered her dosage, anticipating her possible betrayal, so that she doesn’t have the strength to get away when she does bolt.

As for Ikoma, for some reason he thought the key man had all the keys, but he doesn’t; why would Biba make it so easy for Ikoma to get to the most important part of the train? Instead, Ikoma and his men block Ikoma, and when Ikoma refuses to join his fight (an offer most conventional villains usually give the protagonist), his guys open fire. Only Ikoma doesn’t get shot, because Takumi took the bullet.

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So yeah, RIP Takumi, who at least managed to repay Ikoma for his getting show earlier in the run. Naturally, Ikoma isn’t all that pleased his best mate has been murdered in front of him. Unfortunately, that’s not all he has to deal with on this particularly shitty day.

That’s because Biba brings in Mumei, only she’s not really his friend anymore; likely she’s been “re-programmed” with drugs from the mad scientist car. Without hesitation, she drives her dagger into Ikoma’s chest and lets him fall out of the train, off a cliff, and into the sea.

Now, don’t think Ikoma’s dead, and neither do you—he’s the frikkin’ main character, for crying out loud. So the question then becomes, how will he manage to survive, and how will he get back to where Ayame and Mumei are? Talk about a stacked deck…

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 09

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This week, any illusions about Biba having a shred of good (or nuance) are wiped away for good: this is vendetta, against all who wronged him, and wronging him includes acts of cowardice perpetrated by the Shogunate. Ikoma and Ayame are in agreement that Mumei has to be taken away from this guy, but doing so is no mean feat, at least initially.

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Horobi, who we only just met, is given greater focus this week as Biba’s sacrificial subject. What’s so brutal is that she knows this, and is resigned to it, vowing her loyalty even while betraying a glimmer of regret and fear of death. For Biba has gotten it into Horobi’s head that he’s stronger than her, which means she’s expendable.

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No doubt Biba feels the same way about Mumei, and her time to lay down her life so he can walk over it will surely come soon; that is, if Mumei doesn’t get her mind right and escape. She and Ikoma actually get into quite close proximity this week, but Mumei is still following her brother, opening the gate to Iwato against Iwato’s wishes.

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Once Mumei has opened that gate, all hell breaks loose. Biba unleashes his army of captive Kabane on Iwato’s guards, and his meeting with Lord Maeda quickly turns to bloodshed. Ayame takes up a spear, but Yukina has to take a dart to the chest from Horobi. There’s a palpable feeling that the two are very very unsafe in this room with Biba and his true believer followers.

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Mumei quickly comes to regret opening the gates, since the Kabane proceeded to tear through the station, killing and turning hundreds of townsfolk. Of course, she blames herself, which is what Biba wants, as if perhaps she lacked something that would have resulted in a better outcome. That something is, of course, the awareness that her “brother” is an horrendously deluded evil dick.

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That dickishness is confirmed once and for all when, after Horobi goes berserk—first as the core of a fused colony, then a monstrous super-kabaneri killbot—her blade stops an inch from Biba’s throat. A bead of sweat rolls down his cheek just before he runs her through with his sword, taking advantage of her honor and loyalty to the end. RIP Horobi. We hardly knew ye.

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With Ikoma thoroughly “liberated”, as Biba rather unconvincingly claims, Ikoma, Ayame, and all her people are held at gunpoint and warned not to resist or interfere. Even Mumei has guns pointed at her, on order from her bro. Ikoma can’t really do much, and is beaten by one of Biba’s lieutenants, but if one good thing came out of this episode, is that it caused Mumei to wake up to the truth about Biba, meaning she and Ikoma are back on the same side.

The pace of Kabaneri, and Biba’s treachery in particular, has been breathless in its alacrity, almost to the point of not allowing anything to sink in deep enough, because there’s always more stuff to deal with. That being said, if this is only an 12-episode series, I’m not wholly unappreciative of the show picking up the pace for a showdown in the capital.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 08

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Before he even meets him, Ikoma isn’t subtle about his reticence towards Biba-sama. But the show is willing to give him a chance in our eyes when the two do meet, because Ikoma wastes no time calling out the twisted philosophy Biba ingrained in his sister who isn’t really his sister (he just lets her call him brother).

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We’ve seen a lot of sides of Mumei these past seven weeks, but one thing is for sure: being with Ikoma and Ayame and other normal humans has somewhat softened her previously hard line against all forms of weakness. She’s gone from someone with no need for a name (mumei means “anonymous”) to someone with friends who use that name as if it were Yuki or Haru-chan.

Once she’s back in her beloved brother and savior Biba’s shadow, however, she slips back into Heartless Battle Mode all too quickly. It’s a testament to how much history she has with Biba, and how carefully he molded her into a weapon. She’s not the only one, either: Biba’s force of elite Kabane fighters deal with a seven-horde raid with relative ease.

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In the aftermath of the battle, Enoku seems to simultaneously threaten Biba with assassination and offer his services, one among many assassins after Biba’s life. Biba has no use for him; he’s pretty sure Enoku will betray him no matter what, and that falls under his very strict code against all forms of weakness, including treachery, so Enoku buys it.

Unfortunately for Biba, Ikoma witnessed him kill Enoku free of the context of their particular situation. All Ikoma saw was Biba killing someone calling for help. The fierce sympathy Ikoma exhibits also seems to turn Biba off, as if feeling for other people is another form of weakness to be excised.

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Let’s also talk about that little smirk he gives Ayame, shall we? I’ll be honest…it kinda made my skin crawl. What villainy does that tiny grin portend?

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This week confirms what was already fairly obvious: Mumei didn’t become a Kabaneri by being bitten by a Kabane; she chose to become one and let Biba infect her with the virus to make her stronger. Biba’s train has medical facilities where Mumei and other weapons of his like Horobi undergo maintenance.

He also keeps a fair number of Kabane locked in captivity, and seems quite interested in a very bizarre and in no way altruistic experiment that looks like a giant Kabane heart cage. It’s pretty clear everything he does is for one purpose: to make himself stronger and surround himself with stronger weapons in order to protect himself.

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He knows exactly how much power he has over Mumei (all of it), and doesn’t hesitate for a moment in wielding it by asking her to collect Ayame’s master key. Once in Key Retrieval Mode, Mumei has no patience for Ayame’s questions, and even flashes a kunai to show she means business. It’s a chilling scene.

I shudder to think what would have transpired had Yukina not defused the situation with the boiler room key, but it’s only a temporary solution to a very very big problem: Biba’s train is right in front of Ayame’s leading the way, so in a way, Ayame and her train are already his to do with what he will.

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When Ikoma senses the captive Kabane, he races to the freight car, but Biba warns Mumei they’ll have to kill him if he gets in, so Mumei is as short and hostile with Ikoma as she needs to be to keep him away. There’s certainly a part of her that feels bad for what went down with Ayame, and a part that doesn’t want her shield Ikoma to be killed needlessly. But those parts are quickly being consumed by her unswerving loyalty and obedience to her brother.

As Ikoma says to Ayame after being shooed away, Biba is “no hero.” Indeed, he’s the first legitimate human villain; not a passive, ignorant ingrate who won’t hear the likes of Ikoma out, but an active user of people and things with potentially frightening plans.

He’s more dangerous than the Kabane right now, not only because he and his warriors are so good at dispatching them, or because he has Ayame & Co. in his clutches already, but because he has such a devastatingly complete hold over Mumei.

Still, he’s not a Kabaneri (at least as far as I know), which means Mumei could actually be stronger than her brother. Deep down, she could have a better moral compass, too. She just doesn’t know it, because he has her all twisted around his little finger. The key to defeating him, which may be necessary very soon, is to break that hold.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 07

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It had to happen sometime: you can only develop characters so much when their backs are constantly against the wall. Thankfully, the next station the Koutetsujou arrives at is not only populated by living people, but thriving; a veritable paradise compared to the various infernos the inhabitants of the train have gone through.

This brief but welcome period of piece is marked by what you would expect: the characters embracing the opportunity to kick back and relax for the first time in a long, long time. The train has stopped in the station, everyone is out in the open air, in clean new threads. It’s great to see.

It’s also a lot of fun. We’ve been in the frying pan and the freezer with these guys, so it’s highly satisfying to see them lower their guards, however briefly. I particularly enjoyed how impressed Mumei was with Kajika’s haggling skills, and Tatsumi using his newly super-strong best mate to teach a rude Bushi a lesson.

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Even secondary characters get their dues, as Sukari breaks it to a kid that the train his dad was on was overrun by Kabane, overriding Yukina’s attempts to spare him the grief. Sukari tells the kid the truth because it’s what he wanted to be told, but wasn’t.

Perhaps most amusing is Kurusu’s embarrassment at barging in on Ayame shamelessly stuffing her face while waiting for the station’s minister, or how that initially stingy minister offers Ayame all the food, provisions, and medical care she needs when she piles on the charm while demonstrating the power of the jet bullets.

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While we see Enoku meeting with Shitori, leader of the station, portending a possible rough political patch in the near future, and the occasional dive into melancholy (in the case of the kid), the show remains upbeat thanks in part to one guy: it’s protagonist Ikoma, whom I haven’t said anything about yet.

My favorite scene in the episode, and one of my favorite in the show, is when Ikoma tracks down Mumei, who feels blue after suddenly remembering she once celebrated Tanabata, which today just happens to be. Ikoma and Mumei have wonderful chemistry and it’s on full display in their exchange here.

Mumei feels safe with Ikoma, and opens up to him, telling him the dread she feels every morning, knowing one morning she’ll be a full-on Kabane and kill everyone around her. Now that Ikoma knows this, he immediately decides on a bold course of action: he’ll make Mumei human again.

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Her given name (another share) helps him make this decision, as well as his desire for her not to feel that way every morning. He believes her name, Hodsumi, was given by her mother in hopes her belly would be full of rice, and Ikoma is dead set on making sure that happens. He’ll kill all the Kabane, take back the stations and rice paddies, grow rice again, and full Hodsumi up, as her name, in its way a wish, demands.

Mumei is flattered by the offer, unrealistic as she may think it is, but Ikoma is so serious and charismatic, both she and everyone else gathered for Tanabata that night start to believe that simply wishing to survive isn’t enough; humans should strive for more, and more is what he wants to accomplish. It inspires everyone else to dream big. This is Ikoma starting to take on the mantle of leader.

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After some lovely fireworks and a restful sleep, Ikoma and Mumei awake to the sound of to jubilant crowds outside: the Scouting Legion—I-I mean, Hunters have arrived, along with some guy called the “Liberator”, Biba-sama, who is tall, beautiful, and tough as folded steel.

He’s also, as it happens, Mumei’s brother, and even though they greet each other warmly, Ikoma is suspicious. This is the guy who taught his sister that the weak are only good for dying, made her abandon the name Hodsumi, and who knows what else.

Just as I needed—and appreciated—an episode’s worth of rest and peace to get to know the shows characters better, Ikoma needs to spend some time with this guy to see if he’s right to suspect he’s not the gallant hero everyone worships.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 04

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SgS keeps pace with Dandelion this week, as we come to love the characters in both shows the more time we spend with them. It has occured to me that Sore is very much a love letter to the seiyu industry and the people in it, almost playing like a documentary of these girls’ lives, yet avoids being over-indulgent or extra-congratulatory.

With the highs come the lows, and the lows suck when you’re in them, regardless of vocation. That’s what this episode captures best: Futaba at first believing she’s all alone in her doubt and despair, when in fact, everyone goes those emotions. That knowledge brings comfort and motivation to strive harder.

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With Bodhisattvon wraping and all three girls failing to pass auditions for the next show (doubly upsetting since we saw Futaba part with most of her petty cash to buy the manga), they’re feeling uneasy about the future. Futaba in particular is sure she’ll get more work before the Bodhi recording and radio show both wrap, but she’s incorrect on both counts.

All it takes to clear Futaba’s clouds of despair and worry is to bump into a legend like Ginga Banjou, who has died many more times than she on screen. Because of that, he can lend her valuable words of supportive advice that apply not only to dealing with the deaths of one’s characters, but in dealing with the serial rejection all seiyus (and indeed, artists) must endure. Futaba is not alone.

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When their radio show ends, it looks like Futaba is about to stare down the long, dusty road of non-employment in her chosen field (though she still has the part-time job), but their boss springs another surprise on them: not only has their radio show been extended, but he’s putting them in a unit, to record the theme song to the show and perhaps eventually become a full-on idol group.

This is a lot for Futaba and even Rin to take in, though it’s exactly what Ichigo has been dreaming of. I like how they all react by paying more attention to themselves, whether it’s Futaba being broken out of her daydream by her jiggly arm, Rin training herself to wear miniskirts, or Ichigo’s overdone yet somehow appropriate ringlets.

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Really, I should have seen this development coming: Futaba, Rin and Ichigo already had the built-in look of characters who wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi magical girl or music anime. Now, they could be on the road to just those kinds of roles, if it all pans out. Everyone’s nervous, like they were when the radio show first started. But with time, they got better at that, and they’ll eventually get better at all this unit stuff, too.

ED request: The theme to Sailor Moon Crystal.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 03

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Before they begin their own web radio show, they go on Futaba’s senpai Shidome’s bigger radio show to promote it. Flanked by the venerable Tamura Yukari, the trio are literally petrified in front of the mics, as any newbies would be under the circumstances. Despite this, Tamura-san thinks they’re funny, and wishes them good luck.

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When the day of their first recording arrives, the three gather at a much smaller studio with a much smaller staff of one, and a script of only a few pages, with the particularly scary “free talk” mixed in. There’s no rehearsals or practices; they’re thrust right into the studio and onto a live show where every moment of hesitation is a moment of dead air.

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The pressure under the girls is palpable, and things start out pretty rough, but while they show is “all over the place”, they do get into a nice rhythm towards the end, and their boss says they have potential. All they need to do is gather the confidence to converse the way they normally do in front of the mics, and they’ll be golden.

By the same measure, when the three girls watch (and listen) to the anime they had roles in, they’re all a little disappointed in themselves, but that just inspires them to keep working harder to become great. It doesn’t happen overnight.

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