Iroduku: The World in Colors – 06 – Riddled with Thorns

When asked about his experience with the star sand, Yuito mentions the same somewhat crazed-looking golden fish Hitomi has seen leaping in and out of his tablet. Turns out the fish was from one of his earliest drawings, one that won him an award in grade school. Shou shows Hitomi the photo to confirm it’s the same fish.

Speaking of grade school, Asagi moves the needle forward a smidge by chiding Shou when he pats her head, insisting she isn’t in grade school anymore. I’m not sure Shou gets the message—or if he’ll ever get any message—but at least Asagi is smiling as she storms off, and the two are fine the next day.

That next day Kurumi takes the club to a photo shoot where they can wear period clothing, resulting in some lovely shots of various combinations of club members…perhaps none cuter than those of Hitomi and Yuito.

After they change out of the costumes, Hitomi spots Yuito off by himself drawing…or at least struggling to draw. The golden fish leaps out once again, then swims toward Hitomi, surrounding her with a curtain of colored petals.

Hitomi has, without realizing it, used her magic to enter Yuito’s drawing. It goes from vivid to austere to dark and foreboding, and finally Hitomi sees a black shadow figure chasing the fish, which itself appears dead or dying as the scene darkens and the colors grow muddy.

Hitomi “wakes up”, back in the real world, to a worried Yuito, but when she tries to get him to open up more about the content of his drawings, he snaps at her, accusing her of basically being a busybody mage. Yuito is not the kind of guy who’ll easily share things about himself, and by essentially invading his psyche by way of his art, Hitomi has simply tried to get too close too fast.

Again, none of this was her intention, but that night she is comforted by Kohaku, who references the Hedgehog’s dilemma where Yuito is concerned, offering her sage granny advice over hot drinks. “Precious things are riddled with thorns”, and finding the right distance from, and pressure upon, those thorns is simply a matter of time and experience.

The next day Kurumi shows everyone (sans Yuito) the results of their shoot, but her favorites are the candid shots were taken after Yuito stormed off. Everyone looks awkward, uncomfortable, or just plain sad, and as Kurumi says, the images “suck”.

But just as Kohaku tells Hitomi it’s usually better have someone angry at you than be ignored, Kurumi thinks typical smiles can get boring fast. Adding her voice to Kohaku’s advice, she also tells Hitomi that giving bonds “a good whack” ultimately makes them stronger.

I think that’s true where all relationships are concerned. There’s room for time and space apart, but too much of that and you don’t really have a relationship, do you? Better to confront each other with your problems, hash it out, and move on, rather than let things fester within ones’ head.

That night Yuito goes to his friend (mentor) Asakawa Sanami’s exhibition of drawings, no doubt to find some inspiration and ask her why she draws. Sanami says that while she’ll probably always be worried about her future, all she can do is keep drawing because she likes it. And she clearly likes sharing her work, as evidenced by the care, consideration, and gratitude she shows to all who showed up to view it, including Yuito.

Yuito is sorry he snapped at Hitomi, and knows he was wrong; while his hedgehog’s thorns had stuck out in that moment, he’s willing to smooth them down a bit. He gets a kick in the pants when Hitomi and Kohaku arrive at the gallery just as he and Sanami are saying their good-byes; it looks for all the world to Hitomi like he’s simply into another girl, and she bolts.

Of course, that’s not the case, and Yuito chases after Hitomi (both of them thankfully avoid the crazy deadly traffic anime are known for). He promises he’ll draw something, taking Sanami’s own strategy to heart (just keep drawing), and when that new drawing is complete, he’ll let her see it. Not so she can counsel or analyze him, but so they can draw just a little bit closer.

Yuito’s words move Hitomi, to the point that while on the trolley home, her raw but abundant magic conjures the golden fish, alive and well, and the fish proceeds to restore color to her world. She returns home shocked and soaked, and informs her granny. It’s sure looking like the “color” that was once absent in her world, and has now suddenly come roaring back, signifies…well, love.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 05 – Accept Any Challenge

“A rival will appear, and his feelings will drift somewhere far away.” That is the always entrepreneurial Kohaku telling fellow club member Kazano Asagi her sobering romantic fortune. In a way, it’s something Asagi has already suspected now that Hitomi has arrived.

Shou has started to take an interest in Hitomi, whose personal story and magic skills make up for her lack of charisma. But he already has an admirer in Asagi, who is more introverted and mousy than even Hitomi. Predictably, Shou has no idea Asagi likes him.

As for Hitomi, she’s not interested in Shou, but Yuito, the one whose drawings enable her to see color. Would she be trying to do something for Shou and not Yuito if it was Shou’s photos that made her see color? Perhaps. But regardless, Hitomi now has motivation to improve her magic so she can make Shou happy. If she can do that, then he’ll draw more, and she’ll see more colors.

Not that I mean for this all to sound so transactional—all other considerations aside Yuito is a better match for Hitomi. Speaking of transactions, Hitomi must mind the magic shop while Kohaku and her mother are off on an errand. When a customer asks for a star sand by color, Hitomi is glad that there are also numbers associated with them.

Yuito also happens to pay a visit to the shop, seeking a gift for a friend having an exhibition. He makes a spontaneous request for something that might help his “drawer’s block”; Hitomi can’t find anything, but promises to research it. Kohaku later encourages her granddaughter to make her own star sand for him.

Shou gets some alone time with Hitomi, but he’s more senpai-y than overtly flirty; showing her around the dark room, then asking if he can watch her practice her magic. Back home, Hitomi takes her granny’s “accept any challenge” mantra to heart, having batch after batch of sand blow up in her face until she finally achieves success.

The next day the club has a potluck at the magic shop, and Asagi is the first to arrive and greet Hitomi. While Hitomi was working hard on her sand for Yuito, Asagi baked some very impressive (and cute!) rabbit cookies. Asagi opens up about how she and Shou are childhood friends, and how he always took her by the arm and led her around, where she’d naturally default to something much more introverted.

The rest of the group arrives at the potluck, and before long, Hitomi is in the shop, preparing the gift of star sand for Yuito. Kohaku makes up an excuse for the two to go off to the store together, and on the way back it’s Yuito who brings them to the perfect spot to present her gift to him.

He seems genuinely touched that she’d go out of her way to make something just for him, especially when there are moments he looks like the always-friendly Shou is taking opportunities that should be his (like, say, showing her how to use the O’Free machine).

The scene is also patently gorgeous, as they’re perched atop the highest point around overlooking the water that shimmers in the setting sun. Color or no, even Hitomi knows how beautiful it is, and their collective happiness at having shared a moment together there is reflected in their surroundings.

Things get a little awkward back at the potluck, with Shou blockheadedly suggesting Asagi should be more aware proactive, with Asagi curtly responding by asking if she should be “like Hitomi” before excusing herself. Kohaku’s fortune, it would seem, has come true, but as Kohaku tells Asagi,  the future is made by the choices one makes, not the fortunes one receives, which are no more than hints and possibilities.

Kohaku shows Asagi how much failure Hitomi had to weather before getting her star sand right, and Asagi resolves to do her best from now on, and expresses her desire to change. I honestly hadn’t noticed Ichinose Kana (Ichigo from FranXX) voices Asagi, but now that I do, I’m immediately more interested in what she has to say, because Ichinose always says it so well!

Asagi makes up with Shou, asking if he’ll help her make some rabbit postcards; he heartily agrees, showing Asagi that she indeed controls her destiny. As for Hitomi’s gift, Yuito uses it before bed, and it conjures a planetarium of stars that surrounds him, followed by a golden fish of his drawings, which the dives into his tablet.

Will the enchanting experience reignite Yuito’s ability to draw…or will it have the opposite effect? Considering how well things went for both him and Hitomi, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the latter, but I would be intrigued to see how such a predicament might be resolved.

Grand Blue – 05 – Beauty is Only Skin Deep

As punishment(?) for neglecting her at the festival, Chisa puts the word out that she’s dating Iori, immediately making all the other guys at college hate him and wish him ill will in a very over-the-top, repetitive opening act that went on a bit too long.

Chisa does nothing to stop the false rumor—on the contrary, she fans the flames—and Iori tells the guys that Kohei is dating Azusa (making him Public Enemy #2), but they both get a reprieve when they promise to arrange a mixer for them.

Oddly, their job is made easier by the fact the legions of haters are curiously whittled down to just two ornery classmates. To that end, they beg Azusa to introduce them to other women at her college. She agrees, but only if Iori continues to act like Chisa’s boyfriend until, as she puts it, Chisa “accepts it.”

With Iori’s promise secured, Azusa introduces her kohai, none other than Yoshiwara Aina, who the lads find extraordinarily adorable when she’s not wearing the thick layers of makeup that earned her the unwanted nickname “Cakey.”

Aina has wanted to join the diving club anyway since the festival, leaving the tennis club full of fakes who treated her like shit. Despite calling her cakey and drooling over her non-cakey appearance, Aina is still willing to scrounge up three of her friends for the mixer. But she also gives Chisa one hell of a sidelong glance; I believe Chii-chan just got some competition.

The quartet of lads, among them a virgin who will sleep with any girl as long as they’re a girl and he can sleep with her, are shocked to find Aina has somewhat tainted the mixer by giving her three friends as well as herself the same Cakey treatment, giving them the appearance of four clowns.

But if the girls are clowns, the guys are circus animals, constantly jockeying for attention and braying and snorting at one another whenever more than one of them focuses on one girl. Like the lecture hall scene, it gets a bit repetitive.

A look at a selfie shows them one of the girls is quite attractive behind the makeup, and they all go after her, but when Kohei asks her if she’ll come to his place later all four girls retreat to the restroom.

Iori uses the time to inspire his men, only to steal the show, thus invoking the other lads’ collective ire. Kohei breaks a mixer taboo by blurting out that Iori has a girlfriend (something he can’t deny lest he break his promise to Azusa), but the girls don’t even care; they already know that fact.

Later, the girls laugh off the mixer as an entertaining lark, likening it to going to the zoo. But Aina, ever the romantic, still ponders whether the person who saw through her cakey makeup and helped her out when she was down in the dumps could be a good match for her. No doubt she sees a decent guy beneath Iori’s own thick layers of alcohol-soaked machismo.

Hanebado! – 03 – For the Sheer Love of Badminton

Overshadowed last week by Nagisa’s slump was the fact that Ayano still didn’t really want to play badminton. The exact reason why was not explicitly laid out until now, and it paints both her reluctance to join the bad club and Elena’s adamant insistence she join anyway. By getting to the roots of the two girls’ motivations, the episode succeeds in strengthening both characters and elevating the show’s drama.

We start with a series of flashbacks from Elena’s perspective, always on the sidelines watching Ayano with a combination of awe and pride, but also loneliness, and even envy. Mostly though, since they were wee girls Elena has always known how much Ayano loves badminton, and so simply couldn’t allow her to reject it. It wasn’t just about wasting talent, but denying herself that which both of them know she loves.

Of course, we’ve known that love is tainted by the huge expectations others put upon her, and the unwanted attention she gets from other badminton lovers for her body and her skills. Elena watches the others fawning over Ayano, gets bored, and goes to the movies with Noriko…where she’s also bored.

Afterwards, Noriko goes off on a date with Saionji, leaving Elena alone. She spots Nagisa on her run, but doesn’t call out. It’s Nagisa, on her run back, who spots Elena, who explains she wanted to see how Ayano would do on her own. Nagisa asks Elena why Ayano quit badminton, because she’s since fallen far from the “perfect” player who crushed her at the junior nationals. Elena promises to get to the bottom of it.

The next day, Ayano’s personal slump is compounded by the sudden arrival of her former self-appointed rival, Serigaya Kaoruko. After nearly falling for the cool Tachibana, Kaoruko challenges a very lethargic Ayano to a set, and totally embarrasses her.

This is another beautifully-animated badminton game, and it’s thrilling to see Kaoruko so easily confound, befuddle, and decimate Ayano, who had been impressing her teammates with her skills thus far. Kaoruko is disappointed, and vows that Ayano will never beat her. Considering Ayano is lying on the floor drenched in sweat, it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

Ayano rushes out, and when Elena catches up to her, she says she’s quitting badminton after all; Elena can stay if she wants, but she won’t. In that moment I couldn’t help but feel bad for Elena, who had stuck with Ayano all this time only for her efforts to be impulsively discarded after just one frustrating set. It felt like Ayano was taking Elena for granted.

The next day, Ayano doesn’t come to school or practice. Tachibana and Nagisa visit her house where her stately, adorable grandparents take care of her; there, they learn that Ayano’s mother was Shindo Uchika, the greatest badminton player of her generation and winner of ten straight national titles.

Both Elena and I considered the pressure of following in the footsteps of an almost impossibly elite parent ample motive for feeling like one’s own badminton career is pointless…but Ayano’s situation turns out to be far more fucked up. Elena may know more about Ayano than anyone, but even she didn’t understand the depths of Ayano’s pain.

She also didn’t know who Kaoruko was. When the two were scheduled to have a match, Kaoruko caught a cold, so she tied Ayano up and gave her her cold so they could play “on even terms.” Kaoruko ended up beating Ayano by a hair, and Ayano passed out on the court.

While still in bed recovering, her mother turned her back on her, ignored the calls of her daughter, walked out the door…and never came back. Ayano kept playing and kept winning, transforming herself into a badminton WMD, hoping that if she won enough, her mom would come back.

Not only did her mother never come back, but Ayano had to learn from an article in Badminton Magazine at the konbini that her mother had taken on another student in a faraway land and trained her to be her successor. Earlier I wondered whether perhaps there was a good reason her mom had to go, but no, she was just a garbage mother and human being.

Elena ponders the shocking new information Ayano has given her on her walk home, but one image over all others continues to be prominent in her mind: that of a tiny her watching a tiny Ayano playing badminton with her mom and loving every minute of it.

Elena considers it her duty as Ayano’s friend to help her get that feeling back—a feeling independent of pressure and  betrayal. To do so, she elicits the help of Nagisa. Elena and Ayano meet at their usual meeting spot atop the red playground octopus. Elena tells Ayano she needs to go back to school, and Nagisa makes her appearance.

Then Elena tells Ayano something she didn’t know before: How then, and now, she felt/feels “left out” when she watches Ayano play. Elena always thought she doesn’t have anything she can devote herself to, but she does. Ayano loves and devotes herself to badminton, and Elena loves and devotes herself to Ayano. Even if she feels lonely, or left out, or envious at times, it’s all worth it to see Ayano have so much fun.

With that, Nagisa draws a makeshift court in the sand, and the two have a match. It’s a bit of a mess of a match, with the wind wreaking havoc on the shuttlecock…but it doesn’t matter. Ayano is able to drop the baggage surrounding the sport she loves and simply enjoy playing it again.

The rest of the club is contacted and they join in the fun. And the next day, Elena and Ayano turn in their forms indicating their intention to join the Badminton Club. Ayano was dealt a terrible hand in moms, but in turn was dealt a great hand in BFsF.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 23 – The Natural

I was a little out of the loop regarding Isshiki’s pedigree, but that’s cleared up early this week: the Isshiki family has been, along with the Kinokuni family to which Nene belongs, one of the two pillars of Japanese cuisine in Kyoto. Not only that, when he turned four, Isshiki moved in with the Kinokunis to train away from home.

As such, he and Nene have known each other since they were little kids…though Nene resists the assertion that they’re “childhood friends.” When Satoshi asks why she’s always so opposed to his existence, she says “you know why.”

The judges are also introduced as belonging to the revered book of restaurant ratings known as the WGO Guide, led by their marshal Anne. The WGO is akin to the real-life Michelin Guide, giving one to three stars to gourmet restaurants which propels them to the apex of the culinary world. They’re kingmakers and kingbreakers.

Taking stars away can lead to a restaurant’s ruin, as well as the end of that chef’s confidence. Anne notes quite blatantly that Yukihira Diner isn’t even in “The Book”, but makes it clear that this fact has nothing to do with the Shokugeki at hand, and that she and her two colleagues will judge the dishes put before them with fairness and impartiality.

Shiratsu Jurio presents his dish: the quintessentially Italian capitone in umido. With a rich San Marzano tomato sauce and crispy-creamy polenta perfectly complementing the fatty umami of the eel, the judges feel like they’re being cradled in a large bosom of flavor. It’s a masterpiece of by-the-book Italian cooking, and a testament to Jurio’s tireless hard work trying to reach Isshiki’s level.

Isshiki’s dish is not traditional Japanese or anything else, except in its very basic structure, that of Hitsumabushi. However, this is “Polar Star Style”, which integrates a number of ingredients developed (and in some cases not yet perfected) by his beloved Polar Star juniors, which he admits he just flat-out stole from them in order to showcase their skill in their individual specializations.

It really is the best dish someone fighting for the rebellion could present: one that doesn’t just show the judges what a good chef he is, but the potential of chefs below him, as well as his own judgment and confidence in their skills, even if they don’t have the same confidence in themselves.

Satoshi wins the match with Jurio running away, but after curt congratulations, Nene tells him she’ll defeat him in the second bout. She sees this as yet another example of Satoshi, whom she’s known longer than anyone else present, excelling at things with minimal effort, as he did with everything she threw at him when they were kids.

Things that took her endless effort came frustratingly easily to Satoshi, but what has always angered her more than anything is that is was so clearly she felt he wasn’t putting in 100% of his effort. If he did, he’d surely have been above her in the Elite Ten rankings. Really, she’s not disputing his greatness, but lamenting that he isn’t as great as he could be if he, say, worked as hard as she has.

That distinction in her long-standing grievance with him makes all the difference; this isn’t petty jealousy, but disappointment. However, Satoshi tells her they won’t be facing off in the second bout, because Souma is going to defeat her. With one episode until the 24-ep mark, we’re potentially looking at tresults of the remaining two matches in this first bout.

Will Souma beat Nene with his “instant soba”, or will Nene crush his “desperate improvisation” with her Elite soba knowhow? Can Megishima make it a clean rebel sweep by defeating Kaburagi? Or will one of the remaining two rebels fall to Central, making the other win the clincher? We shall see.

Citrus – 04

After what went down in the chairman’s office, Yuzu is now afraid to even face Mei, and so retreats to the safety of Harumin’s traditional house, where she lives with her grandmother. Harumin really shines as Yuzu’s dependable and caring friend, while professing she doesn’t mind because Yuzu is so fun to hang out with. But in the night, Yuzu is wide awake, and her mind is racing. So is Mei’s, as she lies alone back home.

Vice president Momokino Himeko is an apparent witness to Yuzu and Mei’s little tryst, and when Yuzu spots her heading her way, she bolts. When she finally stops, Himeko asks her about the chairman’s office, and Yuzu agrees to meet her outside of school to discuss it.

The meeting spot is a very hoity-toity tea room where Himeko is all dolled up like, well, a doll, and she doesn’t mince words: she wants to know what happened in that office. Himeko, you see, has known “Mei-mei” for ten years, and is her closest and most loyal and dedicated friend. She was by Mei’s side when her father left her.

Translation: she has, and has always had, the hots for Mei, big time, and Yuzu is in the effing way, and needs to eff off, though she frames it as not wanting Yuzu to continue hurting Mei. However, when Yuzu leaves the tea room and bumps into Mei by chance, Mei calls her “Yuzu” and asks when she’s returning home.

Himeko thus learns for the first time that the two are sisters and living together—everything she probably wanted and believes she deserves—and she’s devastated.

Yuzu has trouble reading Mei on their trip home (as usual) but presumes she’s not too mad, and asserts that her usual quietness is actually comforting. When Mei senses Yuzu wants some kind of closure, she kisses Yuzu back, but that one kiss is all Yuzu gets; Mei goes straight to sleep.

The next day, Himeko, feeling threatened further when Yuzu intrudes on her “commute time” with Mei, makes a drastic move, assaulting Mei in the student council office by biting her ear, groping her above and below, and kissing her.

It’s harsh, callous betrayal, reinforced by what we know of “Hime” thus far: she pretends to care about Mei, but really only cares about herself, and wants to ensure Mei remains “hers.” She reports her line-crossing to Yuzu, and when Yuzu feigns ignorance of her feelings for Mei, Himeko asks her for her blessing, calling her “onee-sama.”

Himeko may be a stickler for the rules at school, but when it comes to Mei, she’ll do ruthlessly whatever it takes to keep hold of her prize. Yuzu must either fight back or get left in the dust. There’s also the matter of protecting her emotionally vulnerable little sister from a friend who has turned predatory.

Why do I regard Himeko’s jumping of Mei so differently from Yuzu’s? Two reasons: First, Mei started this…thing with Yuzu; Mei admitted as much to Yuzu. She did no such thing with Himeko.

Second, Yuzu regrets jumping Mei, and knows it was a moment of weakness; Himeko has so far shown no remorse; only contempt for Yuzu, intense possessiveness of “Mei-mei”, and utter disregard for her feelings I’m hoping her transgressions don’t go unpunished.

Aho Girl – 12 (Fin)

The final episode of Aho Girl falls on the tenth anniversary of A-kun and Yoshiko meeting when she and her mom moved in next door. Yoshiko sought a playmate, and it was derision at first sight for A-kun, a stoic, studious five-year-old. She treats every attempt to avoid or get away from her as a game, and never wants to stop playing. When she gives him a big long kiss, he uppercuts her into the sky for the first time.

Realizing the key to keeping Yoshiko away is physical superiority, A-kun begins rigorous training, Rocky-style. Alas, he ends up training too hard and passes out. He wakes up with Yoshiko on top of him, she stayed by his side for an entire day while he was out with a cold. He almost allows that she’s “not that bad” until his mom tells him she was kissing him the whole time. To add insult to injury, his punches can’t even faze her!

If fighting her doesn’t work, A-kun considers other options; after all, he can’t let this go on, lest he end up marrying Yoshiko and having idiot kids with her. So he turns into a demented pervert and chases her around, flipping her skirt, until she cries and he feels guilty for going to far. But even here Yoshiko manages to get the wrong idea, and apologizes for making A-kun “hold back”, removing her panties and putting them on his face.

Ten years later, she’s wearing those same panties (which don’t fit her anymore at all), still trying to play with A-kun when all he wasnts is peace and quiet; and after all these years he still wants to kill her. But if he’s honest, isn’t he glad there’s someone in his life to make things interesting? No. He hates her guts. But does he? Yes.

Netsuzou TRap – 03

Another five minutes of Hotaru fooling with Yume using “practice” as an excuse. Even Yume is starting to have her doubts, and while Takeda is totally unaware, Fujiwara has now caught the two kissing on the slopes.

Rather than elucidate Takeda on the situation, he decides to take Hotaru to his room for the night, leaving Yume little choice but to invite Takeda into hers, or leave him out in the cold. Not exactly forcing a choice, but certainly limiting them.

For the record, Fujiwara and Hotaru are (separately) in agreement that Yume has the power to stop this…but she has to want to. At least she knows Hotaru has the tendency to throw her off balance.

But at some point she’ll have to decide which way to tip the scales: first boyfriend, or best friend who seems to want more…or maybe she’ll continue to be in this state of limbo for the whole run of the show! Either way, if it’s all the same to ya’ll I think I’ll be stepping back from this.

Netsuzou TRap – 02

In its latest five minutes, NTR tries to get a little more granular with the relationship between Yuma and Hotaru. They go back years, and Yuma always played the protective role of shining knight when the Hotaru was teased.

Fast-forward to the present, and Yuma is still Hotaru’s only female friend. Yuma is still a little resentful that Hotaru found a boyfriend before her, but now that Yuma has one, Hotaru is being almost clingy with her teasing, and the kissing was a big deal for Yuma.

Yuma’s boyfriend Takeda is a pretty nice guy, proposing bold sleepover but changing it to a double date out of consideration for how close Yuma and Hotaru clearly are. But Hotaru was pretty blatantly manipulative with both Yuma and Takeda.

At the amusement park, we learn possibly why that is, and why Hotaru just might prefer Yuma: her boyfriend Fujiwara, has a bit of a temper, slamming his foot on the bench she’s sitting on when she refuses his advances. He’s also already suspicious about her and Yuma, while Takeda is blissfully unaware.

It would seem then, that Hotaru yearns to maintain the knight-and-damsel dynamic Yuma and her have always had. Hotaru just doesn’t seem that interested in Fujiwara. She seems to prefer Yuma, and wants her, whether Yuma has a decent boyfriend or not.

Alderamin on the Sky – 11

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Jean Arquinex appears far more frequently this week, but the episode remains at heart The Ikta Show, as even Jean concedes, though he doesn’t know the “brilliant general” he’s up against is only a first lieutenant. Presented with a mind equal to his own and with far inferior numbers, Ikta himself begins to doubt if he’s really his generation’s greatest hero, or if the “bloom is about to come off the rose.”

His inner thoughts, and his own doubting voice whispering inside is his head, are the latest in this show’s consistently successful efforts to humanize and deepen Ikta’s character. When he unwittingly tells the voice to shut up out loud (in earshot of Suya), Ikta snaps back into serious Strategy Mode. That voice inside may wonder if his plans will succeed this time, but it’s not going to stop him from carrying it out.

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When the Aldera army sends units down a narrow path, Ikta & Co. are ready, but they’re only 600 Imperials and 120 Sinack against 10,000; even slowing down such a force is a tall order, and one not without costs. When the Aldera put up barricades, Yatori and Nana agree that they have to go out and take them down.

Ikta lets Yatori’s unit and Nana’s Sinack detachment across the wall, but they suffer numerous casualties when Jean’s air rifle units open fire. Instead of letting the units get mopped up, Ikta decides to go out himself with everything they’ve got in order to protect the wounded before retreating.

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It’s a bold move, with Ikta and Yatori fighting back to back and working as one unit, and in the end, the Sinack and Yatori’s wounded are evacuated successfully. Ikta has a huge fire hit behind their retreat to seal the path, buying a little more time.

Jean is impressed by the enemy commander desperately making shrewd, effective moves to forestall Aldera’s advance. Suya, who loses two valued comrades, isn’t as enamored. She doesn’t see why they had to give their lives so the Sinack they were killing just days ago could live.

What kicks this episode from an 8 to a 9 was the ensuing exchange, which played out like, well, a play, with the stage populated by Ikta, Nana, Suya, Haro, and eventually, Yatori, who claims it is she, not Ikta, who should bear responsibility for the casualties incurred.

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Yatori asserts that Ikta ordered the charge because he knew she’d charge anyway to save her allies (a term she doesn’t take lightly). She also points out that feelings cannot interfere with a soldier’s duty. When Suya asks if Yatori would kill Ikta, I already knew the answer was yes before she opened her mouth, but she still said it in a very cool way (“That question is 300 years too late.”)

That cold assertion hangs in the air after Suya runs off, leaving Ikta to ask what would have to happen for her to actually be able to kill him if ordered to do so (though the word Ikta uses, is when). Yatori replies that she’d have to utterly destroy…Yatori first; leaving only the Igsem steel behind. It would be Igsem, not Yatori, killing him.

Ikta then tells her until the moment he died he’d think of nothing but how he’d lost her, bringing a tear to Haro’s eye (and almost one to mine as well). So if Ikta was to die, she’d die too, and she’d die first. That’s some heavy shit right there, and yet another layer to the already wonderfully rich, dense relationship that has been carefully built between Ikta and Yatori.

Things are desperate right now; the victories available are small and costly. But I know who I want eventually coming out on top, and it ain’t Jean Arquinex. So I have to believe Ikta, with Yatori, Nana, and everyone else’s help, will find a way.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 10

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This tenth Alderamin begins with a flashback from nine years ago, and the show is hardly timely in revealing that the fiery Sinack chieftain Nanaku Daru was childhood friends with Ikta.

It’s also hardly subtle in juxtaposing her paying a visit to Ikta’s bedroom of her own free will—but too young to know the true reason woman would do such a thing—with the present, where she suddenly finds herself in a huge heap of trouble, surrounded by three enemy soldiers who plan to rape her.

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Who comes to her rescue in the nick of time but her old friend Ikta, whom she doesn’t yet recognize? Ikta is pissed, not being one to suffer “beasts.” Nanaku is taken into safe custody. It’s a sobering glimpse of what war often boils down to, and what depths the battle-weary and under-supervised can stoop to when their enemy is demonized and dehumanized by their superiors.

The war is over between the Empire and the Sinack, but before they can even catch their breath, a new, mutual, and well-rested enemy arrives at their doorstep in the form of “La Saia Alderamin”, a once-neutral, highly religious country Ikta suspects is being used as a Kioka pawn as part of the wider conflict.

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What made this episode so strong, and, for me, eliminated any concerns about plot convenience or retconning, was how Ikta handled things with “Nana,” knowing they’ll need her help to cover their retreat from Aldera, and he’s the only one who can negotiate with her.

He gets her attention and reveals who he is by carrying out the Sinack tradition of cutting digits off one’s hand; a legend she told him about nine years ago. He cuts his entire left pinky off in a visceral, powerful scene, and you can tell he’s not putting on a performance, but dead serious about his role as agent of apology and olive branch.

That last part is important, since Nana agrees to help because she knows the religious Alderamin will never tolerate their “heretical” religion, but the Empire will. Obviously it’s not what she wanted (to be rid of both), but she has to compromise, because Aldera won’t.

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Our Knights all get promotions this week – Yatori and Ikta to First Lieutenant, the others to Second, and after Matthew and Haro protest, they agree to stick together in the force that will delay the Alderamin advance. That is achieved by creating a fire line at a crucial forest crossing.

But it would seem Ikta has finally met his match in the form of newly-introduced Kioka Army Major Jean Alkiniks, he of tirelessness to Ikta’s sloth; white hair to Ikta’s black. Both seem excited to have met strategists who will really challenge them for once.

One of the weaknesses of the show has been the appalling ineptitude of the brass, but Jean here is high-ranking enough to do what needs to be done at a larger scale. He’s come further than Ikta so far, but will no doubt be the catalyst by which Ikta continues to advance and progress to become the hero Princess Chamille believes him to be.

I also hope we get to see a little more Nana.

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ReLIFE – 10

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Both gifted and cursed by immense natural athletic talent that made her peers resent her and take her for granted, Honoka turned down all the powerhouses and sought refuge at Aoba High, a prep school not too serious about sports, where no one knew who she was.

But when she tried out for the team, someone knew who she was, and was angry she didn’t give it her all. She makes Honoka spike a ball at her as hard as she can, knocking her down, but she gets up laughing, her suspicions confirmed. Her name is Kariu Rena, and she wants to play volleyball with Honoka.

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For three years they played and had fun, but one thing that goes unmentioned is that the rift caused by her ankle injury wasn’t helped by the fact she never really caught up to Honoka’s level, and trying to stand beside her on a still-tender ankle felt impossible.

So Kariu said some very mean things and retired from the team, two actions she felt she could not undo, no matter how much she wanted to. She didn’t realize just how genuinely worried her friends were, and how they’d let her undo whatever she said or did if she’d just…play and be friends with Honoka again. It’s what everyone wants.

Hishiro’s role in the talk with Honoka is masterful, chronicling all the times she transferred and introduced herself with less and less enthusiasm, “giving up on knowing people” as her heart gradually numbed. The bond between Kariu and Honoka makes her jealous. She won’t let it crumble needlessly.

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Kariu is caught listening in on Honoka, and maintains her stubborn iron guard. Oga remains to assure Honoka she didn’t mean the things she said (again), and Honoka is in agreement. Kaizaki, basically acting as Hishiro’s backup thus far, surveys his friends and Honokas; they’re all of the same mind. They give Kariu time and space, trusting her to show up for the tournament.

When she doesn’t, Hishiro is pissed, and vows to drag Kariu there if she has to. Yoake helplfully provides Kaizaki with Kariu’s address. An points out to Yoake that he’s getting more involved these days, because he likes how things are changing. So does she. Kaizaki & Friends exploits are changing them too.

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Hishiro almost makes the rookie mistake of stating her name after ringing Kariu’s bell. Kaizaki shushes her and pretends to be a delivery man, Kariu answers the door, and they barge in. She’s in her tracksuit, with her uniform on underneath. It would appear their trust in her was not misplaced, only their confidence in her ability take the step of going to the tournament on her own. She’s still stuck at home.

Kariu calls Hishiro dense, that she can’t possibly understand how she feels, but Hishiro doesn’t care. Kariu’s her friend; she’s allowed to be worried about her. She’s come to fulfill her own selfish desire: to make Kariu play with Honoka again. She takes Kariu’s head in her hands and ask her what her selfish desire is.

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Turns out, it’s the same thing; Kariu was just afraid it was too late to achieve, but it wasn’t. All their selfish desires align. All that’s left is to act. Kariu accompanies Hishiro and Kaizaki back to school. Kariu enters the gym, and the match. Honoka stops looking, as Hishiro puts it, “ugly” and “dead.” They play, and have fun, like they’ve played for three years.

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They also lose, and are eliminated, and are officially done with high school volleyball for good. But as they both share a good cry behind the gym (with Hishiro sitting between them, a choice she initially regrets), Honoka makes it clear that winning without Kariu would not have been fun or made her happy. Losing is fine if it means she has Kariu back. And Kariu points out they can still play volleyball in college. Duh!

They exchange apologies before turning their gratitude and affection on Hishiro, who couldn’t be happier herself. She’d only just become friends with these two, and she was going to be damned if she was going to let their bond crumble. So she worked her butt off and it paid off marvelously, to the joy and relief of all. Stellar stuff.

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ReLIFE – 09

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Much like the way Kariu fell on her ankle, things have gotten very awkward between her and Honoka post-spraining. Kariu has elected to keep her distance, partly because she’s ashamed for what she said to her friend. Honoka sits with Hishiro, who instantly notices she’s looking “uglier” (due to the crying).

Inukai hates to see Honoka like this, wants to force Kariu to apologize; the more diplomatic Asaji holds him back. When two people on ReLIFEare out of balance, everyone is affected adversely. The question is, what to do about it?

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Someone I didn’t mention above is Kaizaki, who all but sat out last week, and is paying the price for not being more attuned to things. He knows something’s up with Kariu, however, and thinks the best thing for it is to leave Oga alone with her and let youth do the rest.

In addition to placating Oga x Kariu shippers, Kaizaki also taps into Oga’s chivilrous nature, sticking around specifically to help Kariu walk home, and not leaving even when she yells at him. She’s not surrendering to his kindness here so much as cutting him some slack. It’s difficult and scary to be honest with one’s feelings, and the truth is she does appreciate Oga.

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Two really great things about ReLIFE: it always finds ways to involve characters who aren’t in the present spotlight. Take Kaizaki and Hishiro, united in their need to figure out what’s up with their friends and what to do about it. Or take Yoake and An, who monitor Kaizaki’s talk with Hishiro. An grows closer and closer to Yoake as the conversation grows more personal and, well, dark.

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The fact is, both Hishiro and Kaizaki ended up heeding peers’ demands they stay out of a bullying situation. Hishiro’s friend left school; Kaizaki’s senpai…well, it sure looks like something awful happened that scarred Kaizaki emotionally. Suicide, I’m guessing.

In any case, the discussion triggers that memory, and for a moment Kaizaki mistakes Hishiro for his poor doomed senpai, and embraces her tightly. Before he does, Hishiro is very concerned for Kaizaki, and comes this close to touching his face before he hugs her.

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True to character, Hishiro doesn’t freak out by the close contact. On the contrary, I daresay she probably enjoyed it, as yet another step toward growing closer to others. But she’s not going to sit back and let what happened to her friend and Kaizaki’s senpai happen again. She wants “revenge”, against the mistakes of her own past self.

Neither she nor Kaizaki would have been able to act were it not for each other and their united front. Taking that next step to actively help your friends, without being asked or even when they specifically tell you not to do anything, is scary as well. They’re essentially each other’s courage.

Hishiro’s friend and Kaizaki’s senpai put Hishiro and Kaizaki before their own well-being and happiness, successfully compelling them to stifle their instincts to act. No longer. Hishiro and Kaizaki corner Honoka and get her to tell them what’s up.

In an interesting assist by Inukai, he tracks down Kariu and brings her to the closed door of the locker room where Honoka is talking with Hishiro and Kaizaki. The first thing Kariu hears shocks her, but not so much me: Honoka never wanted to play volleyball to begin with.

Next episode: Kariu/Honoka flashback! Till then, glad to see Kaizaki’s finger back on the pulse of things, and working so well with Hishiro. It’s been a joy watching these two grow as friends—and as people—side by side.

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