Isekai Ojisan – 03 – The Things We Do for Views

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Isekai Ojisan – 02 – Neon Genesis Osananajimi

Ojisan’s Youtube views are dropping, so he institutes austerity measures in the home budget—though only after he orders a copy of a video game magazine listing the final results of Sega Saturn reader’s choice. He learns that one of his favorite games, Guardian Heroes, was only ranked 197th. I never played that, but I did play the heck out of a Genesis game by Treasure called Gunstar Heroes, which was immensely fun.

After summoning lighting to sufficiently punctuate his moment of shock despair, Takafumi gets him to stop talking about video games and show him another recorded memory from his time in the isekai. When the village elder shows him to the Frost Clan member Mabel, who goes ahead and tells Ojisan what’s needed to unfreeze her heart, only for Ojisan to ignore all that and defeat the dragon without her Frost Sword.

First Takafumi’s uncle misinterpreted elf’s tsundere behavior as shit-talking, then he totally circumvents the other world’s “quest”. Those blunders aside, Takafumi still thinks enough of his uncle to give him a Sega Saturn for his birthday, which they play to ring in the year 2018.

Ojisan also shows Takafumi how the other world celebrated the new year, only for him to simply eat some chicken by himself and retire to his room. When he mentions Mabel visited in his room later that night, Takafumi switches off the Saturn and demands to hear more.

Turns out Ojisan convinced Mabel that her ennui and reclusive behavior were simply living her truth, and that there was nothing wrong with that, and she should go on doing it if that’s what she wanted. It is, and she does, which even Takafumi can tell is both teaching and learning the wrong lesson!

When Fujimiya Sumika first encounters Ojisan, she assumes he’s a rambling old weirdo and commits to walking a different route. However, it’s thanks to this route that she’s unexpectedly reunited with her childhood friend Takafumi, who has since grown taller than her. Sumika, who we see was once very attached to Takafumi when they were kids, is clearly jazzed to see him again.

She accepts his invitation to stop by his house, which she does after dropping off her groceries, only for the same weird old man she saw in the park to come in through the balcony sliding door. Ojisan initially treats Sumika as an enemy and tries to wipe her memory, but Takafumi intervenes, resulting in quite a bit of physical contact.

Sumika shakes off the attempted assault, but immediately takes the stand that Takafumi shouldn’t be letting his old uncle mooch off of him. When Takafumi confirms that his Ojisan actually does have magic powers he gained in another world, Sumika says what we’d all say: “So show me.”

It doesn’t take long even for someone like Ojisan to pick up on Sumika’s attraction to Takafumi, though she may deny it, leading him to bring up Evangelion, in which Asuka was a famous early example of the tsundere archetype (something Oji has yet to catch on to when it comes to Elf).

Sumika is actually moved by Ojisan’s sad tale that is actually ripped directly from the Saturn game Alien Soldier, at which point Sumika is fed up with having her emotions toyed with. Then Ojisan reads her mind, revealing she showered and changed before coming to Takafumi’s, and was disappointed to learn he had a roommate.

But while she’s disappointed, she also seems to still like Takafumi enough that she’s not going to stand by and do nothing while Takafumi is leeched on by a layabout charlatan. As with Elf and Mabel, I love Sumika’s dynamic character design. She’s cute, but still the tough kid she was when she first fell for Takafumi. It’s a shame Takafumi is 100% oblivious to her long-standing crush, but she and Mabel are fine additions to this colorful cast.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Call of the Night – 03 – Night Fight

While I could absolutely keep watching just Kou, Nazuna, and the night for ten or eleven more episodes, the introduction of Asai Akira doesn’t ruin the vibes. In fact, she brings a unique dynamic: Kou’s only human friend, something he didn’t think he had in her. When he placed the blue watch on the mailboxes, he didn’t mean to place it right above Akira’s, but that’s how she took it.

When Kou was an aloof kid off on his own in the playground, only Akira went to him to see what he was up to. When he said he was fine not joining the others, she joined him instead, and declared them friends. He didn’t object, but he probably forgot that exchange that Akira dutifully maintained. She still considers him a friend, and is glad he’s doing okay.

So Kou begins leaving ever-so-early from his nightly visits to Nazuna’s for some bed-lying and blood-sucking so he can meet up with Akira (who is an early bird to his night owl). Nazuna jokes that he’s going off to see another woman, and immediately senses from his expression that she’d accidentally nailed it. That said, Kou admits in voiceover that he and Akira don’t do much other than exchange inoffensive small talk.

On one such occasion in the park, he asks if Akira is having fun. She puts the question to him, and he says he isn’t not having fun, so she replies that she is. Just as Kou, extremely inexperienced in such things, starts wondering if Akira likes him, Nazuna menacingly emerges from the shadows only to give Kou a friendly pat on the shoulder and congratulate him for doing “hanky-panky”.

She tells Akira her and Kou’s relationship is “purely physical”, and while Akira’s mention of romance (upon hearing Kou call her “Nazuna-chan) once again makes Nazuna blush, she shakes that off by basically marking her territory, sucking Kou’s neck right in front of Akira and announcing she’s a vampire.

At a 24-hour café, the three sit, and Akira tries to grasp the situation. She asks Kou if he’s skipping out on school because of Nazuna. While she may kind of be the reason now, she wasn’t the original reason, which was that he simply couldn’t be bothered with it anymore. Akira feels the same way, especially with Kou gone, but didn’t ditch because she thought she had to go.

She thinks she’d have more fun if Kou were around, so she asks him to come back to school. When Kou doesn’t immediately refuse and seems to hesitate, Nazuna seemingly gets miffed and suddenly splits. Kou follows after her, asking if she’s angry and why, but Nazuna doesn’t feel like spilling it out, and is clearly still mad, so she flips him off and does her vampire warpspeed thing. Kou looks for her all night, without success.

Finally, in that magical in-between time just before sunrise, Kou falls on his face while climbing some stairs, then uses his receiver watch to call Nazuna. She responds, and he proceeds to tell her that while he doesn’t really “get” fights like the one they’re apparently in, but he wants to make up with her. With that, Nazuna suddenly appears, and is once again as honest with him as he was with her, saying she was “ticked off” by him hesitating after Akira asked him to come back to school.

Turns out she misunderstood; Kou hesitated because he wasn’t sure how to tell a human friend that couldn’t go back to school because he wanted to become a vampire. With that cleared up and the two well and truly made up, Nazuna notices the blood from Kou’s tumble, and proceeds to kiss him in order to drink it, remarking that “a lot came out”. She liked how he said human friend, and that it suggested he had a vampire friend too. Kou may not know this since she’s his first, but vampire friends do kiss.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 11 – It’s Kyou Ethnina’s World, We’re Just Living In It

The Shield Hero Gang is finally reunited, only with Filo sporting a steep decline in attack power due to her change of species and Raphtalia donning an adorable miko outfit. Kizuna also reunites with her comrades L’Arc, Therese, and Glass for the first time in years.

The warm feelings of those reunions are chilled somewhat by the sight of Kazuki, whose two improbably loyal and devoted aides are trying to stich him back together. Unfortunately, he jumps the gun and his top half ends up separated from his bottom half, hopefully fatally.

Oh, and Kyou Ethnina also has an improbably loyal and devoted aide? A samurai girl who is going to kill his enemies? (Throws hands up) Ok, Shield Hero, why not?!

Glass is so happy and relieved to see Kizuna she doesn’t want to stop hugging her, even if Kizuna finds it hard to breath; it’s Peak Endearing Glass, though you could argue she had a lot more edge when she was a baddie. The group ends up in Sikul Castle, where we learn…L’Arc is the young king of Sikul. The hits keep coming!

Naofumi, Kizuna, and their super-sized mega-party are determined to kick Kyou’s ass, but they need equipment. Kizuna hits up her longtime midriff-bearing blacksmith Ramona and gives her the unenviable task of doing a week’s worth of work in a night’s time.

After placing the order, the group is suddenly ambushed by Kyou’s samurai aide, who is determined to end all of them, scolds them for outnumbering her, and bears a creepy sword with an eyeball.

Needless to say, while she has no shortage of spirit, the girl is no match for the combined power of Naofumi and Kizuna’s parties, and when she’s disarmed, the sword takes on a mind of its own, restrains her with tendrils, and seemingly sucks up her energy.

Therese, L’Arc, Kizuna, Naofumi, and Glass all work together to separate the sword from the girl and send it high up into the sky, where it self-destructs, taking with it the girl’s undying loyalty for the guy who almost blew her the ef up!

Her name is Yomogi, and as befits a hero who cannot kill another person, Kizuna decides to take her to her party’s home and headquarters, where she herself hasn’t been in years. Naofumi protests such light treatment of an ally of Kyou, but doesn’t stop Kizuna from doing things her way.

Sending everyone else away to prepare for the fight with Kyou, Kizuna removes Yomogi’s restraints, asks her to sit down and relax, and serves her tea. In exchange, she learns that Yomogi and Kyou are childhood friends, that he was always a little off, but apparently in a less evil way at first, such that even someone with a rock for a brain like Yomogi was drawn to the knowledge he possessed and dispensed.

However, in the midst of her discussion of her childhood friend, Yomogi concludes that if Kyou has indeed gone off the deep end behind her back, then she’ll help stop him, while also sharing in whatever punishment is chosen for him, even death. While I doubt Kizuna will take her up on that, I’m sure she’s happy for another strong fighter on her side.

Alas, the next day when the mega-party picks up their completed equipment from Ramona’s, Kyou’s big scheme kicks into gear. The countdown rapidly drops to zero, Waves of Catastrophe appear in the skies, and Naofumi and Kiuna’s parties are separated via warping.

Whatever semblance of positive feelings Yomogi might’ve had for her childhood friend are dissolved in the midst of this spectacle. All this time she thought he was occasionally going a little too far in order to stop the waves, but his actual goal was to summon them. Dude’s gotta go!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 07 – Always My Heroine

Nagisa knows who LIPxLIP is, and it doesn’t take long to get Hiyori to admit that she’s working as their manager-in-training.  It still doesn’t explain why they accompanied her to the station, however. Of course, Hiyori has her revenge for having her secret job so easily revealed. When Nagisa says she seems “different”, she gets him to admit she’s cute just as easily!

I had my reservations about the sudden arrival of Nagisa, but these two are basically the cutest; they’re just such a good fit together…nice and balanced! It’s crystal clear to Aizou and Yuujirou that Nagisa is in love with Hiyori, and only a couple of minutes of riling him up has him standing up like a shounen hero saying “She’s the only girl for me!” Unfortunately for him, when Hiyori tells Nagisa he can stay at her place, it’s just as clear to LIPxLIP that she has no earthly idea Nagisa has those kinds of feelings for her.

Nagisa, being so in love with Hiyori, warns LIPxLIP that he won’t give up on her, even to an idol, and that they “can’t have her.” This comes as a surprise to them, but Nagisa has a point: as someone who once teased Hiyori because he liked her, our idols can’t pretend that there’s something about Hiyori they value above other girls, even as they endlessly say she doesn’t act like a girl most of the time.

As for Nagisa, his stature, good looks, and instant likability have Uchida-san trying to recruit him as an idol. He respectfully declines, as he already has a dream in place: taking over the family restaurant, the fish for which Hiyori’s family provides, making their coupling that much more inevitable.

The actual FT4 show is a lot less built up and laid-back than I expected, but there are some very good reasons for that. True, Aizou and Yuujirou are stewing in the front row as their rivals play with the crowd like putty in their hands, but Nagisa and Hiyori are an island of serenity by comparison.

You can tell he’s super chuffed that Hiyori’s attending a show with him. His favorite member of FT4 is all too fitting: the glue guy who hangs out in the background and lets the others hog the spotlight, but without whom there’d be no music. He doesn’t come out and say it—he may not even be aware—but that’s what Hiyori is becoming to LIPxLIP—increasingly indispensable.

Nagisa has a plan. He never had any designs on staying at Hiyori’s place overnight, but he did bring all the gear he needed to cook her a gourmet meal as thanks for attending FT4 with him. But the sumptuous feast is only a prelude…a way of preparing the ground for a confession of love.

Earlier at the station, Nagisa played dumb when she mentioned how he said she looked weird in a dress, which we know has informed her personal style ever since. But not only does Nagisa remember, but he’s mature enough now to admit why he teased her at the time: because she was too cute, and he was worried someone else would take her away.

No sooner does he say “I love ya” does he stand up and walk out of the apartment, saying he’s leaving on the shinkansen tomorrow. He doesn’t want to pressure her into an answer; a text or call sometime will suffice.

A good word for Hiyori after hearing Nagisa’s confession: befuddled. It never once occured to her that her best friend forever felt…that way. Hell, she never thought anyone would ever say they loved her. Fortunately, she remembers she has two girlfriends and calls them up for their help over hamburgers.

Juri is happy for Hiyori, and when asked, is extremely genuine and eloquent when she tells Hiyori when she started liking the guy who became her bae. He wasn’t even her type at first, but he gradually became so. As for Chizuru, she won’t brook any hesitation on Hiyori’s part: a confession from a hot childhood friend is both a rare treasure and a cliché…and Chizuru has no problem with clichés.

Juri brings things back down to earth a bit, and assures Hiyori that Nagisa is probably just as worried as she is about their relationship possibly changing for the worst. But as he was brave enough to tell her how he really felt, all Hiyori can do is return the favor.

Hiyori may not know what she wants when it comes to romance, but she does know what she doesn’t want: anything that will negatively affect what she’s got going on now: school, track and managing. She’s going all out with all three, and there just isn’t time for romance right now…not until she’s seen those things through.

Nagisa is surely a bit disappointed, but probably also relieved that it’s not a hard no, just a “not just now”. He even admits he jumped the gun. He tussles her hair, tells her she looked good when she dressed up but also thinks she looks good when she’s running around and covered in sweat, which is just beautifully heartwarming. Hiyori thanks Nagisa for telling her how he feels, as it gives her confidence she can become a heroine.

Nagisa tells her the truth: to him she already is one, and always will be. He promises he’ll be back in Tokyo after graduation to take business courses in college and train in restaurants. He’ll be working hard too, and hopefully, they can work hard along side one another soon. Their parting is such sweet sorrow, but they’ll surely remain in each other’s hearts as they go after their dreams with everything they have.

Heroines Run the Show – 06 – From Crap Creeps to Cute Crêpes

If Aizou is out of shampoo, Hiyori has no problem walking into the boy’s shower to get him more. It’s steamy, and it’s not like she’s in there to sneak a peek; she’s just doing her job. She’s been acting more assertively as a manager should, but to these two old-fashioned chums, she couldn’t be acting less like a “girl” if she tried. 

When Tamura gets the three of them tickets for a FT4 show, Hiyori says she’s already going with her childhood friend Nagisa, who is an FT4 superfan. At such an affair it’s expected to “dress up”. The boys want to give her a makeover, but she demurs.

After a day of observing other girls—Hattori, Setoguchi, Narumi—Hiyori encounters perhaps the cutest girl she’s seen of the day, and she’s being harassed by a creep. Hiyori breaks his hold and runs off with the girl, and you know they’ll lose the creep because if anything, Hiyori can run.

I liked the detail of how she’s not the slightest bit out of breath once the coast is clear, while the cutie is huffing and puffing. The girl thanks her by buying her a crepe at a place she’s always wanted to try, but not alone. Before you know it they’re exchanging bites.

When the girl notices she’s staring a bit, Hiyori just mentions how she thinks she’s super cute…a heroine, not an “extra” or “bit player” like her. The girl admits to having also been insecure for a long time due to someone she knew and admired being so pretty. This girl posits that being loved, not cute, is what truly makes a heroine.

She was saved from a creep by Hiyori, and is now having fun eating crepes and talking with her. She likes Hiyori, so maybe she’s a heroine after all! The girl’s name is Narumi Mona and is, unbeknownst to Hiyori, is an up-and-coming idol, and presumably Narumi Sena’s sister.

Their talk inspires Hiyori to try researching some fashion mags, but she’s caught by Yuujirou and Aizou, who demand to know what she’s up to. She tells them how the one time she wore a cute dress and felt like a princess, Nagisa told her she looked “weird”, which led to a complex about looking too “girly”.

The boys say Nagisa sucks, but Hiyori then lists all the ways Nagisa doesn’t such and has always been there for her, especially following her dream of track. The fact remains, in no small part due to Nagisa’s teasing years ago, Hiyori doesn’t think she has what it takes to be a princess.

Yuujirou and Aizou then proceed to show her just how wrong both she and Nagisa are. They take her to their stylist who gives her an adorable new ‘do, then they take her to a classy clothier to try on a number of cozy classic looks.

I love the way the two boys fuss over Hiyori and bicker over the best way to dress her. They come off very much like two doting big brothers trying to make their sister into the princess they know she is…while also showing up the FT4 fan that gave their manager a complex.

After hair and clothes comes makeup and posture, which the boys also take care of back at the studio. It’s very My Fair Lady in the way the two cosmopolitan lads are trying to infuse some Tokyo style into their country bumpkin colleague. Hiyori has to deal with idol super-close-ups when they’re applying the makeup, which is very much a less-is-more affair.

When the time arrives to meet Nagisa at the station, Yuujirou and Aizou accompany Hiyori in her new duds, because they can’t wait to see the look on Nagisa’s face when she sees her. Ah, yes, that’s right…they think her childhood friend Nagisa is a girl. When Hiyori spots Nagisa, whom we’ve known was a boy since the end of last week, she’s so excited she runs as if not wearing a long skirt.

Nagisa catches her before she can touch the ground, and is revealed to the idols as a most strapping young lad…perhaps not as photo shoot worthy as either of them, but certainly handsome and fit nonetheless. He was also unquestionably a typical little boy who teased the girl he liked because he was an idiot.

His first reaction to Yuujirou and Aizou contains multitudes. It’s not (or it’s not just) that he may be irked by the fact Hiyori is hanging around two cute Tokyo boys who must look like nothing but trouble to a hayseed like Nagisa…it might more be the fact that he know’s they’re his beloved FT4’s rivals: LIPxLIP!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 03 – Our Weird Dance

This week’s cavalcade of quiet, calm hijinx begins with Raidou looking like a shounen hero and Aharen looking like a toy troll. Turns out it’s just a matter of bed head, not that she’s joined a death metal band. When Raidou’s attempts to tame the hair result in a lotus-type shape, it’s up to Mitsuki, whose family happens to run a salon.

After cutting both Aharen and Raidou’s hair (the latter being a big step forward, even if her original attempt was to shave him bald), Aharen thanks her by inviting her to eat lunch with them. Unfortunately Mitsuki is too shy to sit too close, but Aharen just happens to have extendable chopsticks. Mitsuki also helps her apply toner, moisturizer, and lip balm, then give Aharen a fully body massage for good measure.

When one of their classmates who is training for baseball grows so large he blocks Aharen’s view of the chalkboard, Raidou tries to help out by going through every possible alternate position before concluding that the best one is the most normal; simply pushing their desks together and getting cozy. However, when the teacher announces that everyone is changing desks soon, Raidou is determined to make his “last days” sitting next to Aharen-san count.

In a co-ed softball game for P.E., Raidou learns throwing strikes to Aharen is nigh impossible due to her strike zone being the roughly the size of a postage stamp. He thinks she’s calling her shot, but her arm is itchy, and when she makes her stance lower, it’s simply the heat making her “all droopy”. But by walking her on four pitches, hers is the winning run for her team, so he at least is able to deliver her some glory.

In Home Ec class, Raidou, who can’t cook anything, is paired up with two other classmates whose cooking skills he’s not sure of. But Aharen is also on his team and she’s a great cook, so he knows they’ll be fine. However, after softball she has no energy, so he has to cook, with horrifying results. Thankfuly Aharen has a strong stomach and wolfs down all the food he made, giving her the energy needed to whip up a meatless four-course meal and a passing grade for the team.

Finally, Raidou tries to help Aharen with what he believes to be her dream to become a famous YouTuber,  practicing choreography for a weird dance while her phone records. Here Raidou’s imagination truly gets out of hand as he imagines the two of them becoming internet famous and filling arenas with their bizarre dancing that is reminiscent of Elaine’s from Seinfeld. Turns out she has no designs on being famous; she was just practicing dance moves for class.

As for changing desks, well…I expected them to simply switch places and remain next to each other, but even that doesn’t happen. And you’d think the teacher would realize Aharen can’t see if she’s behind another huge athletic kid! But that doesn’t matter, because the blissful days of sitting beside each other shall continue indefinitely…as will their whimsical antics.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 02 – XYZ

Raidou and Aharen’s rapport continues to be strong and easygoing, but while Aharen has distance and communication issues, Raidou has an overactive imagination. For instance, he imagines Aharen was in a street fight with some toughs, when she really just got something in her eye. I liked how difficult it was for Raidou to administer the drops, and how when he gets something in his eye, Aharen is quick to reciprocate—though like me, she sucks at administering eye drops!

Raidou’s imagination also runs wild concerning the constant feeling he and Aharen are being watched and followed. He looks back on all of the petty offenses he’s committed against people in his life (mostly against his little sister) and believes himself a “monster”, and thus deserving of a hitman after him. Dude is an absolute goof.

However, he’s downright normal compared to the one following them, Aharen’s towering childhood friend Ooshiro Mitsuki. She is protective of Aharen, whom she calls Reina, but also terrified of Raidou and so keeps her distance. Even when Aharen insists he’s neither scary nor a bad guy, Mitsuki can’t help but stick to her misconceptions. Also MAO voices Mitsuki in “Pecorine on caffeine” mode.

The next segment involves Aharen wearing a mask due to a mild cold, and thus not being able to properly notify Raidou that his fly is all the fuck open, revealing his pink strawberry print boxers. Let it be said that Aharen’s reaction to this is as amazing as her attempts to warn Raidou are ineffective. That said, she does come up with a lot of clever ways to block the sight of his crotch from others.

Even on the way home, after an exhausting day of failure, Aharen  positions herself in front of him to spare him embarrassment. When he finally determines that she’s been trying to get him to notice something, and sees the reflection of the two of them in the mirror, it seems like he finally gets it…only for him to wrongly assume Aharen got a haircut.

Next up is the first segment with just Aharen and Mitsuki. Even though Raidou is absent, Mitsuki is weary of getting too close to Aharen, since she’s worried she’ll be yelled at, scolded, or bopped on the head (again). That said, it’s raining, and Mitsuki keeps trying to clandestinely lend Aharen her umbrella, only for Aharen to believe the umbrella is cursed and locks it up in front of a hastily-built shrine. Ultimately Aharen shares her umbrella with Mitsuki, and uses the fact she’s within talking distance to thank her for watching over her.

The post-credits sequence is short but sweet, as Raidou breaks out the Reversi (AKA Othello) board and challenges Aharen to a match. He thinks he’s got a worthy opponent (he touts himself a “Raidou Family Champion”) when Aharen exerts the aura of a lion, but he ends up trouncing her. Then he gets her to admit she let him win, insists she fight him with everything he’s got, and then she trounces him…twice.

Komi Can’t Communicate – 02 – Everyone’s Old Friend

Komi is the kind of popular in her class where everyone will put her on a pedestal and admire her from afar (and snap photos), but are too much in awe of her to approach her. If she wants to make friends with any of them, she’ll either have to approach them, or Tadano will have to introduce her to some.

We soon learn this isn’t so easy, since Tadano himself is not exactly popular. In this school full of strong personalities, Tadano is an eyesore to some. Take the normally sweet and cheerful Yamai, who clutches Tadano’s shoulders when he approaches her and utters curses through his ears for daring to speak Komi’s name with his scummy mouth.

Tadano had hoped he didn’t have to resort to her, but he approaches his friend from middle school, Osana Najimi (a play on words, as osananajimi means “childhood friend”). Not only is Najimi of indeterminate gender (she typically goes by “she” but occasionally says she’s male), she’s also childhood friends with everyone. She’s voiced by Murakawa Rie, perhaps best known to me as the voice of Re:Zero’s Ram.

Everyone, that is, but Komi, whom she also knew from second grade. Najimi was always a gregarious sort, but when she first approached Komi, she took her lack of communication as ignoring what she was saying, or acting cold and aloof. Not being able to make friends with Komi actually traumatized Najimi, to the point she’s not sure she can be friends with her now.

Even so, Tadano’s Serious Look at Najimi convinces her to at least give it another shot for her old friend’s sake. So she and Komi walk home together. Komi’s usual nervousness and Najimi’s unusual nervousness make things awkward from the start.

We then get two different perspectives of the same interaction: first Najimi’s, then Tadano’s. To Najimi, Komi is doing all the same things that put her off trying to be friends with her years ago, while Tadano is able to interpret Komi’s reactions properly from his stalkery hiding spot.

Najimi is ready to throw in the towel when two more old friends of hers interrupt the experiment. The much larger, burlier of the two has come to ask her out, and even her saying she’s a guy doesn’t dissuade him. When he removes his jacket in a dramatic flourish, his house key flies out of a pocket. He grabs Najimi, not taking no for an answer, but Komi basically rescues her by approaching the brute with the key he dropped.

She actually talks to him, but so softly and in such broken rhythm, he thinks she’s saying she’s going to kill him with the key, which combined with her focused stare causes him to beat a hasty retreat with his toady. Najimi decides to befriend Komi on the spot, and Komi, adorable lass that she is, expresses her elation with a giddy bunny hop.

Najimi wants to help Komi communicate better, so sends her off on an errand, which is more of an ultimatum: Go to Starbucks Standbakes and order a Non-fat milk Pistachio Deep Mocha Dipped Cream Frappaccino with chocolate drizzle and lots of whipped cream…or they won’t be friends anymore. Terrified of losing her second-ever friend so soon, Komi gives it a college try, but is ultimately unable to speak to the barista.

The barista, an elite “Black Apron”, tries to divine from her silence exactly what she wants, but ends up making a Noir Fantastique Valencia Orange Bitter Chocolate Brownie with Nutty Flavor Pistachio Sauce on Walnut Chip Chocolate Chip Cookie Chip Soy Milk Creamy Frappaccino with lots of sauce and lots of whipped Cream and lots of chips…which is not right.

When she delivers the accursed drink, Najimi says it’s not right, and Komi starts to cry. Najimi realizes the difficulty level of her test was way too high (just ordering a coffee would have ben tough enough!), and she and Tadano prostrate themselves before her, then marvel at how cute Komi is when she’s mad.

While overly complex Starbucks drink jokes are a tad old-hat, I found Najimi immediately charming and likable, just like Komi and Tadano, only a completely different personality in terms of her immense popularity and tremendous knack for befriending. No doubt her skills and experience (combined with Tadano’s Komitranslation skills) should help Komi make 98 more friends.

Vanitas no Carte – 03 – Blood Laid Bare

Vanitas looks like he was in trouble when he was up against Jeanne the Hellfire Witch, but he employs his usual boisterousness to buy sufficient time for Thomas Berneux paralysis to wear off so he attacks Jeanne for him. Then, with his associates and a neutralized Jeanne, and Orlok’s butler and maid bearing witness, transforms Berneux back into a human.

After that Vanitas turns his attention to Jeanne, who insists she can still fight. He then employs another gambit: having Noé nab Luca and cover his mouth, making it look like he’s a hostage. Vanitas revels in his correct assessment that Luca is Jeanne’s weakness, then wall-slams and kisses her in her weakened state which, well…kissing people who can’t physically resist you ain’t cool!

At least it’s not supposed to be cool; everyone makes it plain Vanitas is a big ol’ jerk. He’s definitely a rascal; you could also call him a scoundrel and I doubt anyone would complain. As for Berneux, he doesn’t last long in his restored human state, as he’s seemingly killed by the one who turned him into a curse bearer to begin with.

Back at Orloks, Amelia’s execution is “postponed” for the time being, on the condition that she works, and Noé and Vanitas live, at a hotel he owns in the city so he can keep an eye on the three of them. Now that he knows the Vanitas no Carte isn’t bunk, he’s loath to let go of such a valuable curse-bearer-exorcising resource.

As for Berneux’s demise, Vanitas chalks it up to “Charlatan”, a monster (possibly a vampire) of dubious corporealness who has been going around town creating curse-bearers to expand his whimsical parade of death and destruction. Noé, revealed by Orlok as a member of the Archiviste Clan, has the ability to read the memories of those whose blood he drinks.

He does just that with Amelia to confirm how she was changed into a curse-bearer, and…goddamn, is it an unsettling, fucked-up little sequence. He wakes up screaming from watching Amelia’s memory of Charlatan glomping her head. But now that he knows who’s responsible, Noé isn’t going to rest until the shithead’s dust.

If that means having to continue to put up with a jerk like Vanitas, so be it. Not long after his memory-reading session with Amelia, his betrothed childhood friend Dominique de Sade struts in, dazzling the stage like a Kill la Kill character. Kayano Ai gives a playful arrogance to the role, and her little steampunk droid Kreisler (or Chrysler, if you prefer) provides a steady cloud of rose petals for added effect.

We learn that “Domi’s” gramps is Noé’s teacher, and that the House of de Sade is known for its rude behavior, but also the power and wealth to back it up. Domi wants Noé to be her escort for a masquerade ball in Altus, the city ruled by the de Sades. No doubt she wants more than just a date; she overheard the situation with Charlatan, and there’s people she wants Noé and Vanitas to meet.

Noé, Vanitas, and Domi reach “the barrier”—elegantly and ominously described as “the product of an experiment gone wrong long ago, or so it’s said”—the bridge between regular, mostly-human Paris and “Altus Paris”, which is frankly way more badass looking with its blood red sky lined with spider web-like lines and towering castle (no doubt the domain of the de Sades).

Humans cannot cross the barrier, but Vanitas is different. He can make the crossing as long as he’s touching a vampire while he’s doing so. He actually took quite a risk in simply leaping into the barrier without telling anyone. Noé just so happened to be close enough to take his hand and catch him, and Vanitas probably expected him to do that.

These three colorful characters in an even more colorful setting should make for an excellent, intrigue-filled fourth episode. Until then, this outing very successfully established the threat (and creepiness) of the Parade of Charlatan, as well as Domi de Sade’s general awesomeness.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Osamake – 01 (First Impressions) – The Romcom Where The Childhood Friend Won’t Lose!

When Maru Sueharu (melodic name, that) encounters his classmate and the school’s vaunted idol, Kachi Shirokusa, he’s honored she knows his name, and says her first novel moved his heart. His praise moves her to tears as she thanks him, showing a side no one at school had ever seen, and that was that: Sueharu “fell victim to love’s poison”, as for him love isn’t something you fall into, but rather eats away at you.

It’s eleven days until the cultural festival, on the second day of which is the “confession festival”. While on friendly speaking terms with Kachi, Sueharu made no further progress with courting her. His mate Tetsuhiko isn’t surprised. She’s smart, athletic, an award-winning novelist and model—way out of the league of Sueharu…who just seems to be…some guy?

Sueharu watches Kachi (imperiously voiced by Sakura Ayane) tearing her own notes rather than letting a girl copy them. Then he catches Kachi in the library, either writing fresh notes or re-writing the ones she tore, all with tears in her eyes. If ever there was an chance to approach her, it’s here, but Sueharu chickens out. Tetsuhiko suggests Sueharu ask his childhood friend Shida Kuroha out instead of tilting at windmills.

She’s out of his league to, but due to their osananajimi status, she might actually say yes. Sueharu admits that Kuroha is cute, all the guys like her, she’s good at communicating, and he respects her a lot. Just then, Kuroha announces her presence, bending her diminutive frame to face him while he sits on the floor. Sueharu gets all shy, something Kuroha mentions is something she likes about him.

As other boys in class curse Sueharu and plan his death with startling detail for daring to have an “older loli” as a childhood friend, Kuroha makes no effort to lower her voice when she asks if Sueharu regrets rejecting her when she asked him out. Even Kachi and her friend Maiko take notice.

Sueharu prostrates himself and admits that yes, he’s grateful to have Kuroha. Then Maiko accidentally blurts out that Kachi is dating actor Abe Mitsuru, himself the son of a famous actor. Sueharu’s heart drops out of his chest, and he flees the classroom in a cloud of despair.

Naturally, because they’ve known each other since they were little Kuroha knows just where to find him sulking: on the riverbank. She repeats that her asking him out was only because “she lost a game” but he knows that while she acts like an older sister, she likes to be doted on. Because he’s spot-on about that, she cradles his head in her chest as a reward.

Kuroha reiterates her affection for Sueharu, for being nice to her even when he’s hurting himself. She also says that despite the fact he rejected her, her feelings are still there, which is why she can relate to how he’s feeling having been passively rejected by Kachi.

It was in this scene where Kuroha and Sueharu won me over. For one thing, both the characters and their seiyuu Minase Inori and Matsuoka Yoshitsugu have properly gorgeous chemistry that oozes from the screen. They feel so comfortable and sweet together, it’s a crying shame they don’t just date each other…but then there wouldn’t be a show, would there?!

Instead of taking the easy route of going out for real, Kuroha offers to help Sueharu get revenge on Kachi, for stringing him along out of a desire to “keep him around” despite having a boyfriend; the proverbial cake and eating it. It would also be revenge for Kuroha, who is insulted by Kachi’s implied rejection of her friend. As far as she’s concerned it’s Sueharu who’s out of Kachi’s league.

It’s here where Sueharu mentions in VO that Kuroha’s name is based on “clover”, which is not just a symbol of luck, but promises, thinking of her, and…revenge. And at their first meeting to plan this revenge, Kuroha makes no secret of her preferred method: Sueharu and her pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend, thus depriving Kachi of the buddy she friendzoned.

Before Sueharu fully agrees to this method, Kuroha immediately settles into the role, which she made quite clear would be “all profit” to her, as she’d get to go out with the guy she loves. She gets close to Sueharu, runs her hand down his arm and weaves her fingers into his, whispers in his ear, and eventually gets him on his back, hoping to commence their “fake” dating plan with a real kiss.

Just before their lips touch, Sueharu thinks of Kachi crying on the bridge and wigs out, leaving an upset and unsatisfied Kuroha alone. After trying and failing to get dirt on Abe Mitsuru—he’s perfect!—he flees to the roof to basically monologue in a very dramatic, theatrical way—one instance of many in the episode that allow Matsuoka Yoshitsugu to have some fun with his performance.

Turns out it’s no accident that Sueharu is often performative like this, as we learn when Abe Mitsuru appears on the roof, having heard Sueharu was asking around about him. When Sueharu expresses surprise a famous guy like Abe knows him, Abe says he doesn’t so much know him, but remember him…as the “former genius child actor” Maru Sueharu! This is the first sign that Abe isn’t going to be just some faceless baddie gumming up the gears of Sueharu and Kachi’s romance. Hell, it’s possible Sueharu inspired Mitsuru to follow his dad and become the actor he is!

As it is, Osamake takes the tried-and-true formula of a two-girl, two-boy love polygon, but flips the script of the classic childhood friend character, so often portrayed as meek, supportive, and ultimately content with an unrequited love.

Kuroha may be supportive, but she’s neither meek nor content. Confident and assertive, she knows exactly what she wants and isn’t going to give up trying to get it. And hopefully, for once, the childhood friend won’t lose, as the title suggests (it could be lying). Sueharu came off a bit dull at first, but through his interactions with Kuroha we see what she sees in him. I just hope he doesn’t have amnesia about child acting…that would be one romcom cliché too many!

Mars Red – 02 – Sin From Thy Lips

In the ruins of the bunker where Misaki was being held, Moriyama informs his newly-promoted boss Col. Maeda that there have been more vamp sightings in Kayabacho. Nitto News reporter Shirase Aoi is after the truth of the recent spate of “human combustion” incidents and keen for details on Misaki’s “elopement”, while yearning for her childhood friend, who never returned from battle in Siberia. She’s also miffed that Salomé has been replaced by Romeo & Juliet at the theatre.

We meet the vampiric members of Maeda’s vampire unit Code Zero—the “unranked” Yamagami, “A Class” Kurusu Shuutarou, and “mad scientist”-type Takeuchi—as well as Suwa, who seems to be human. Their first trip for intel on the vamps in Kayabacho is Tenmanya, a shop full of knicknacks, antiques, and curios. Its proprietor plays both sides of the human-vampire conflict.

Tenmanya is willing to offer some info in exchange for ruining his competition. Those rival “blood sellers” are selling a bootleg of his “product”—the vamp equivalent of the hard shit—and a vampire couple are enjoying it and themselves, though the woman seems to think her mate is drinking a bit too much.

While playing a bouquet of asters at the stigmata where Misaki burned up, Maeda encounters Aoi, and learns that one of his vampire agents, Kurusu Shuutarou, is her childhood friend reported dead. He doesn’t tell her of Shuutarou’s fate, nor why he’s leaving flowers, other than he “couldn’t keep his word.”

At midnight, all bridges and streets leading out of Kayabacho are sealed and Code Zero moves in on the vampire couple, who sense danger and aren’t prepared to go quietly. I love how simple yet frightening vampires are depicted in Mars Red, and once again the lighting and camerawork really sell their speed and ferocity that far exceeds human limits.

Unfortunately for our couple, they are cornered on a bridge, and Maeda has brought plenty of his own vampires to take them down. The male vamp chugs one more vial of the black blood and goes out in a blaze of glory, but it’s Suwa and not the Class A Kurusu who delivers the killing blow. Despite being an extremely powerful vampire, Kurusu is disgusted and even a bit scared of blood.

The “parent root” female vamp tries to flee, but she’s headed off by Maeda, who rather violently stuffs his fist through her mouth then slashes her with his sword. How he, a mere human, can do this is not clear. Is he not a mere human? Unfortunately Maeda’s aide Moriyama has to be put out of his misery. Maeda handles it, then has a solemn smoke on the bridge.

Like Tenmanya, Mars Red has the eclectic style and pleasantly musty scent of a shop with odd hours filled with neat things. I also like the connection between Aoi and Kurusu, though I wish after two episodes I could summon more than a shrug about Colonel Maeda, who’s almost too stiff and stoic for his own good.

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 03 – Top-Grade Eels and Feels

When Rin tells Nadeshiko she’ll be staying in Shizuoka for a couple extra nights due to the snow back home, Nadeshiko makes an alternate proposal: Rin could join her at her grandmother’s house on Lake Hamama. There’s are some lovely little moments of tension in between Nade’s offer, the alert sound on her phone, and the reveal of Rin’s reply: “Looking forward to it!”

The snow granted Rin two extra days to be all by herself if she wanted, but she choses to spend it with Nadeshiko, though first she books a surprisingly cheap campsite, spending New Year’s Day reading on the beach and then luxuriating in the bath.

At dusk, she quite accidentally stumbles upon a little local tradition where people gather to watch the sun setting directly into a torii gate near the Hamama-Ohashi Bridge. As Rin puts it, she got to see the sun rise and set on the year’s first day. Early in the morning, Sakura gets Nadeshiko up so she can make all the various train transfers to Sakume Station, where she’ll meet Rin.

After breaking camp, Rin heads to Kazanji in Nishi Ward to buy a gift of Strawberry buns, and soon learns that there’s a fanatical demand for them, as she ends up in yet another crush of people. Nadeshiko is at Sakume and greets her with a formal New Year’s Greeting, then shows her a gaggle of tame black-headed seagulls.

It’s a 20-minute walk to her grandma’s but Nadeshiko suggests they grab some lunch, further suggesting they have eel, a Hamama Lake specialty. Rin is down to just ¥1,920, so when she sees that the Top-Grade unagi Nadeshiko orders costs ¥4,000, she panics. Not to worry: Nadeshiko whips out a crisp ¥10,000 bill her dad gave her specifically to treat Rin to the good stuff, as thanks for how much she’s helped her out over the last half-year.

Rin doesn’t turn down the offer, but is perplexed when Nadeshiko, who decided to sit at the counter, turns away from watching the practiced chef kill and clean the live eels. Watching Rin’s reaction to tasting that eel, I’d say Nadeshiko’s tendency to make food look really good is rubbing off!

Upon arriving at Nadeshiko’s granny’s lakeside house, Rin also meets Nadeshiko’s childhood friend Toki Ayano, who comes off as a lot less energetic than Nadeshiko. In fact, she’s kind of a Lake Hayama Rin … or maybe Rin is a Yamanashi Ayano! There’s a natural bit of tension here as well, as it’s always a bit strange to meet your relatively new friend’s much older friend (or vice versa).

As expected, Rin ends up learning more about Nadeshiko from Ayano. Specifically, she was quite a bit chubbier in middle school, and her sister Sakura put her on a grueling exercise regime biking around Lake Hamana, and she slimmed down by her first year in high school. Now Rin understands why Nadeshiko had the strength and stamina to bike from Nanbucho to Lake Motosu the day they met.

Nadeshiko and Rin show her granny and Ayano more pics of camping, many of which are of food and eating, to which Nadeshiko declares eating outdoors to be the “best part” of camping. Rin doesn’t loudly agree, for a reason we learn later that night, but she does demonstrate her mini offertory box portable campfire grill by grilling mochi outside, and Ayano starts to get it. Also, Ayano has a moped too!

After an evening of watching TV while under the kotatsu, playing the Game of Life, Ayano has to head off to work at the konbini, agreeing to meet up with them at the observatory later. When the time to head there arrives, Nadeshiko wakes Rin up for once, and Rin, who hadn’t slept in a real bed for several nights, needs an extra few moments to shed the coziness.

Rin is initially worried about biking at night, but as Nadeshiko assures her, this area is like her back yard; she knows it like the back of her hand. Ayano is there to meet them at the observatory, and she and Nadeshiko points out all of the landmarks of Hamamatsu at night. Then she asks how Rin’s solo camping went, and she gets a very honest answer.

Going from Christmas Camping to soloing for New Year’s confirmed for her how different it feels when you’re camping alone. You see and hear and taste things you just won’t when you’re not alone, and you have nothing but time to contemplate things.

Rin describes soloing as “a way to appreciate loneliness”—which is a hell of a line! Nadeshiko notably doesn’t come right out and agree with Rin … and that’s okay! She and Rin can prefer different kinds of camping and enjoy occasionally camping together or with larger groups and still be good friends.

It may just be my imagination, but Yuru Camp seems to have upped its game a bit in the second season. Landscapes and backgrounds seem lusher and more detailed, as are the interactions and emotions it tackles, without beating you over the head with drama.

There’s a pervading realism to everything, from those little indefinable moments and feelings to a strong sense of geography and culture of the places the character inhabit. It’s also making me compile an ever longer (and harder to complete!) list of places to go and things to do next time I make it to Japan!

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