To Your Eternity – S2 12 – Biting Down Hard

Last week gave us insight into Kai’s past and why he wants to help Fushi. This week we get the same with his other two new allies, Messar and Hylo. Turns out Messar is casual with Princess Alme because they once played that reversi-type game together as kids. Alme promised to give him anything he wanted if he beat her, but he never got to as he was shooed away as a servant’s son.

When Booze Man!Fushi rebuilds the waterwheel building, he gets offers from impressed and amazed citizens hoping he’ll rebuild their houses as well. Because both the new building and Booze Man’s house are extensions of Fushi, eventually the whole of Renril will be of Fushi as well, and thus far easier to defend from Nokkers.

Fushi finds Hylo sparring with the citizen soldiers in order to gain their trust, and Fushi can sense he’s taking and concealing a huge amount of physical punishment. Hylo tells Fushi that as a child he had his teeth pulled and was isolated from the rest of the world, with only his adoptive mother as a companion. The reason for this is that the church believed he was possessed by a demon.

Due to having complete control over his life and upbringing, the Supreme Pontiff made Hylo a holy soldier, but Hylo vowed to free himself from that charge at the nearest convenience, which is why he’s now with Fushi. One of the citizen soldiers, Cam, listens in, and is brought into the fold. He doesn’t like Fushi’s insistence that no one but him fight. The people want to fight and protect what they love.

Fushi now understands Kai and Hylo better, but what of Messar? To Fushi it looks like he just lazes around playing games. But Bon tells Fushi that Messar must have ties to the royal family, as they met and became friends at a gathering of nobles twenty years ago.

The reason Messar is so focused on playing the game (and having Kai teach him how to win) is that he remembered Alme’s promise, and decides to cash it in now. He doesn’t want the throne, he only wants the princess’s trust. So they play. For her part, Alme is happy Messar remembered the promise, and to be able to play with him again.

Messar ends up beating Alme, and she grants him her “trust”, which translates to the crown convincing the population and coordinating demolition so Fushi can rebuild at a faster pace. Still, Alme insists that real trust only comes with time and actions, not won or lost bets. To this, Messar walks up to her and blows her veil away, revealing her beautiful face, much to her chagrin.

Messar then reveals to Bon that he’ll never be king, because he and Alme are half-siblings and he’s the king’s bastard son. He’ll never tell Alme this, so Alme may continue to harbor romantic feelings, but if their brother and father die, he’s determined to be the one to protect her, hence his alliance with Fushi. Less than three months remain until the Nokker attack, but preparations are progressing smoothly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Urusei Yatsura – 08 – A Ran for Her Money

After seven episodes of floating around class causing a commotion, Lum officially enrolls at the school, surprising Ataru so much he nearly chokes to death. He insists Lum attending school will “cramp his style” but I know not of what style he speaks.

Lum isn’t the only transfer student either: the other is the newest addition to this boisterous and chaotic bunch: Ran, Lum’s childhood friend. Ataru starts hitting on her immediately, which is when Lum recognizes her and asks for a talk behind the school.

Once there, Lum and Ran greet each other like the old friends they are, and Ran says she’s disguised herself as a human so she could see Lum. But when reminiscing about old times brings up the boy they both fell for—Rei. who looks like a complete bore—Ran’s personality suddenly curdles into that of an enraged ogre.

Ran hasn’t forgotten how Lum stole Rei from her, and has come to earth to take revenge on her. Specifically, she intends to use her succubus-like ability to suck the life out of people with her mouth on an unwitting, two-timing Ataru who will be all too eager to kiss.

Lum tries her best to stick close to Ataru, committed to protecting her darling despite the fact he’d still cheat on her in front of her face without batting an eye. This episode does not show Ataru at his best, but I suppose it shows him at his most libido-first Ataru-ness.

Ran manages to get Ataru alone under a tree, but is unable to apply a smooch due to Lum flattening Ataru at the last minute with a tatami mat. I guess the injuries he receives as she keeps him away from Ran’s mouth aren’t as bad as what would happen if she kissed him.

During the cavalry clash, Ataru gets the chance to witness what happens as Ran accidentally kisses another boy, who ends up transforming into a feeble old bansai-watering fogey. And yet, Ataru doesn’t care in the slightest. He’s always been about the hunt. If capturing the hot babe of his dreams will result in his death, it will have been worth it.

Yet the day passes with Lum successfully defending her baka-darling from Ran’s lips. Ran slips back into her more mild-mannered mode, only to get all worked up again when she remembers the wedge that split the two of them apart: her would-be darling Rei—whom I must point out chose Lum over her.

The second segment involves Ran saying, Poochie-style, that she’ll be returning to her home planet shortly, but wants to spend one more day of tea and cookies with her best friend and her darling. Why she chooses to relay this message via self-destructing Ran doll is a mystery I fear we’ll never solve.

Ditto Ran’s insistence on passing as human while her house is very clearly an alien spacecraft. Ran makes sure she looks her cutest and most innocent, as she tries to convince Lum that 1.) she’s really leaving and 2.) she’s given up on stealing Ataru from her. That fiction evaporates when Lum feeds her drugged cookies to a sentient vase that then falls fast asleep.

But Ran has more than one trick up her lavender sleeve, as she’s preparing a copy of Ataru in her oven, identical in every way except for an apostrophe near his head (looking like a kind of floating ahoge). That apostrophe is actually one of the first things the real Ataru notices, and he snatches it just as Ran grabs him and returns him to Lum, thinking he’s the copy.

Ataru doesn’t know it, but he accidentally saved his ass by grabbing that little thingy. As Lum forces him to leave with her, Ran storms out holding a wholly deflated Ataru clone, madder than ever. That night, Lum, ever the optimist, wishes she’d tried to get along better with Ran before she returned to her home planet.

Of course, Ran doesn’t return to her home planet, but back to Ataru and Lum’s school the next morning, still maniacally determined to steal Ataru from Lum and suck the vitality out of him. So for all intents and purposes, she’s here to stay … and I’m fine with that! The more intensely-haired shiny alien beauties, the better, I say. I’m simple like that!

Ran is, you’d probably guessed voiced by the incomparable Hanazawa Kana, and I’m glad Urusei Yatsura saved one of the biggest guns in its massive seiyuu arsenal for a character with a split personality; the better to utilize Hanazawa’s fantastic vocal range. She has the ability to jump from syrupy-sweet to pure venom on a dime.

She also makes Ran, for all her flaws, a lot more likable than if someone else voiced her. The episode also wisely kept Shinobu, Mendou, and all the other characters out to the periphery so it could focus on the Ran-Ataru-Lum triangle at hand. I’m sure it won’t be long before Rei arrives on Earth to try to reclaim Lum’s heart. His efforts are sure to be met with failure, since Lum only has eyes for Darling now.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 09 – Demon’s Due

Yuugiri Akino’s AAA wins the auction by one dollar to take out the latest Demonically Possessed: Miles Morgan. Mikhail, it would seem, is trying to get rid of every trace of Asmodeus, including Akino and Shuu. We also get to see Mikami put the pieces together just before dying by Miles’ hand.

When Miles drives Shuu to the middle of a big park, he tells him Asmodeus is his benefactor whom he can never repay. Shuu wants him to apologize to everyone, including him but Miles has no regrets, and transforms into a Demon Hazard.

As a giant demonic monster, Miles proves too much for Ayano and her AAA troops, but luckily Shuu struck a deal for Sharon to lend a hand in taking down Miles in exchange for her freedom from police custody and for the memories of Asmodeus’ puppet, Miles.

In what is otherwise a very dry and dour episode, Sharon at least adds a bit of flair and ridiculousness by throwing a running motorcycle Miles’ way. Ayano repays Sharon saving her life by putting a gun to her head, but grudgingly accepts her help.

While Shuu and Kisara initially stand back and watch what happens, it soon becomes apparent Kisara needs to get involved, even if it ends up killing Shuu’s foster father. So Shuu tells Kisara what she needs to take from Miles and gets to smooching.

Hot Topic Kisara relieves Ayano and Sharon and has a proper rough-and-tumble brawl with Miles eventually piercing him from behind with her sword and putting him in a position to be shot by Shuu’s demon gun.

Shuu’s off-camera shot is followed by a rundown of the events that led to Miles breaking bad. It boils down to his daughter Melissa having a terminal illness and Asmodeus, who possessed the body of Shuu’s mother Sayuri (either always or at some point).

Miles did what Asmodeus told him, betraying Shuu’s family, while the mine explosion was caused by Shuu’s dad detonating a bomb. Miles’ daughter made a miraculous recovery, Miles took in Shuu as a mercy, and as he said, his debt to Asmodeus remains active and unending.

Kisara sucks up all of these memories swimming in what’s left of Miles’ human brain, either killing him or putting him at death’s door. Meanwhile, Kisara’s latest kiss has rendered Shuu so devoid of memories he had to refer to a note on his hand to recall that Miles killed Mikami.

Miles is defeated, but no one looks happy as the sun gets low over the scene, while Shuu looks distraught, but also quite lost. Sharon warned that at some point his contract with Kisara would render him unable to remember or even feel anything. We’ll see if Shuu can escape that cruel fate in the final four episodes of the series.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Call of the Night – 08 – Date Night

Kou’s comment about falling in love with Nazuna “no matter how many years it takes” is met with the reaction it is because there’s a rule he hasn’t been told about: once their blood is sucked, a human only has one year to become a vampire. If they can’t by then, they’ll never become one.

Nazuna cheekily pretends she forgot to tell Kou this, then conveniently remembers the debt she owes him for working on Kiyosumi, and kisses him right in front of the other vamps before flying off into the sky. Kou tells Nazuna that he realizes she’s weird even for a vampire, but he’s glad he met her first.

That said, this new time limit is concerning, and it takes Akira spelling it out that after that year is up and he’s not a vampire, he’ll be killed to protect their secrets. Later, at school, Akira comes across Seki Mahiru sleeping at the top of the steps, zonked out from being, you guessed it, out all night.

We learn that Mahiru, who befriended everyone, befriended Akira and Kou when they were all little. That said, neither Kou nor Akira realized that they were actually friends with him, due to his gregarious nature. Speaking of gregarious, Kikyou Seri greets Kou again one night, and while he tries to run, she promises she won’t kill him, and only wants to start off on the right foot.

When Kou demonstrates his middle school innocence regarding romance, she can’t help but serve as his love coach, and suggests he kickstart his relationship with Nazuna by taking her on a date. Naturally, when Kou proposes this, Nazuna isn’t interested, and continues playing her video games. But Kou switches her PSOne off and insists.

The date plan Seri drew up for him would probably work for most couples, but Kou and Nazuna aren’t most couples. Nazuna won’t even pretend to be able to stand the romcom movie they go to, while at the café Kou tries to start a conversation about the movie even though he knows she hated it.

Nazuna suspects someone put an idea in his head, and after reading Seri’s list she snatched from him, decides this is all lame and goes home. Kou lies in bed forlorn, but soon Nazuna taps on his window, not liking how the evening almost ended and suggesting they at least get that bite with a night view.

Naturally, that means one of their patented late night flights, and the “meal” ends up being one-sided, as she sinks her fangs into him in midair for the first time. Nazuna tells Kou that he doesn’t need to over-plan or overthink; they’ve already been going on dates, and she’s enjoyed them. Her attitude makes me encouraged that Kou can indeed become a vampire within the time limit.

Another night becomes a reunion of Kou, Mahiru and Akira when Mahiru spots Kou while hanging out late at night with other peeps. Kou is surprised Mahiru recognized him, but Mahiru says of course he did; they’re friends. The two proceed to get very corny about their feelings when Akira joins them and asks that they please stop. It’s a fun and wholesome all-human interaction.

Mahiru bids the other two farewell as he must meet someone he’s come to like. Nazuna, while looking for Kou, happens to spot him walking hand-in-hand with a lady, and when Kou arrives, she decides that they should hold hands too, with the practical excuse of not losing track of one another.

While Kou idolizes Mahiru as a “perfect” person (his family even owns a flower shop!), it’s Kou who encourages Mahiru to continue his nightly pursuit of love with the story of how he’s been hanging out with his own late night lass. I love how the episode ends with a super wide shot looking straight down at the two couples walking in opposite directions while both experiencing happiness.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 05 – The Moon Is Beautiful

One night, before they started going out, Mizuto and Yume were in adjacent rooms on a middle school class trip. When they both looked out their windows at the full moon, Mizuto said Tsuki ga kirei desu ne, which means “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?” but can also be an artful way of saying “I love you”. It’s a night Mizuto still hasn’t forgotten…even though it must’ve been more than what, two years ago?!

Fast-forward to the present, and Mizuto is being a big ‘ol jerk about not wanting to go shopping with Yume for Mother’s Day, even though they had plenty of fun on their date the other day. Yume convinces him to come with a fetching ” ooting” outfit, and when they’re on a crowded train and a bump causes Mizuto to pin her between the side of the car and him, she tells him not to pull away, as it will only keep happening with every bump.

The two settle on a bouquet of carnations, which is a pretty standard go-to Mother’s Day gift. But their mom is so happy to receive them that she runs away in tears. As we know, these are good kids, and making their mom/stepmom happy makes them happy. Mizuto may put out Ayanokouji vibes, but he’s nothing like that sociopath!

That evening, Yume notices the door at the end of the hall is open a crack – a beam of the setting sun gleams through, lighting motes of dust in the air. She finds Mizuto inside, praying to his mother’s shrine. Mizuto’s mom died when he was very small, such that her shrine photo is is only visual link to her.

Not only aware this is no time for sniping but genuinely wanting to support Mizuto during a lonely moment, she cuddles up next to him, like a “big sister” should. That’s when Mizuto says that since their parents are newlyweds, they should give them a night alone sometime. That of course means the two of them would have to spend the night…somewhere else.

Yume turns all sorts of shades of pink and red as Mizuto runs by what’s possible and not possible, even admitting to looking into love hotel rates. But since they both know that might just be taking things a bit far considering their history, Mizuto instead asks Kawanami if he can spend the night at his place.

Yume, in turn, can stay at Minami’s…because Minami and Kawanami are not only childhood friends as we all suspected, but also next-door neighbors. Due to that prodigious amount of time so close to one another, they’re basically more siblings than Yume and Mizuto.

Kawanami has a little fun with the paper-thin walls by acting like Mizuto is talking about Yume’s boobs (causing her to attack the wall), while Mizuto gets payback by reading Kawanami’s elementary school report on wanting to be a police officer so he can marry Minami (causing her to attack the wall).

Kawanami and Minami’s easy, lived-in rapport carries over when they both independently pick the same family restaurant to take Mizuto and Yume to dinner. Kawanami and Minami each know exactly what the other is going to order, while the two even have a shared laugh at the stebsiblings’ expense when they both show they have no idea about soda fountain protocol.

After dinner, Minami gets all cuddly with Mizuto about tutoring her in Japanese, but Mizuto shuts her down by declaring that Yume is the far more appropriate choice for a tutor since she “works so hard” for her grades while he puts in very little effort.

Later that night, Kawanami is bored that Mizuto is just studying, so he texts Minami, which again seems like a common occurrence. They may say they have nothing to do with each other, but they’re fooling absolutely no one—including themselves.

Kawanami and Miniami are so in sync they even fall asleep at the same time, while Mizuto and Yume go out on their respective balconies to admire a full moon. When Mizuto hears Yume on the other side he peeks over to find her in cute frog jammies Minami “made” her wear.

Then Yume says “Tsuki ga kirei desu ne”, confirming she too remembers that night of the school trip when he dropped that “pretentious come-on”.  That said, she basically admits that was when she started liking him. Mizuto says there’s no point in telling him that now, but it’s clear he was happy she remembered that night as vividly as he did.

They both ponder whether all the time Kawanami and Minami have spent together “means” anything, being so close together for so long. As for the two of them, Mizuto believes it isn’t likely their folks will split up, so they’re “stuck as stepsiblings until the end of time.” While he tries to make that sound like the same “hell” Kawanami claims living beside Minami to be, both of them are vastly overstating their torment.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 12 – Everything becomes the ocean

It’s the last day of Gama Gama, and admission is free. The place is packed with people, which has Kukuru asking why they didn’t come earlier. But even so, she understands that Gama Gama has gotten too old to properly care for its sea life. The logic doesn’t make the last day any less melancholy, but there’s a hint of hope, as Kukuru is offered a job at Tingaara when she’s done school.

Once the last visitors head home and the doors close for the last time, the staff plus Karin and Udon-chan have a little party celebrating 48 glorious years. When everyone learns Kukuru has a job at Tingaara if she wants it, and that Umi-yan and Kuuya are also taking jobs there, a tipsy Karin urges Kukuru to go for it. But Kukuru just isn’t sure, and that’s understandable: the offer came on the day she believes her dream to have ended.

Gramps makes a very awesome and tearjerking speech, and then Kukuru and Fuuka spend some time on the moonlit beach. After the emotional roller coaster of the typhoon, they’ve fully made up. In fact, Kukuru believes it’s now her turn to support Fuuka’s dream, by urging her to take the lead actress job in Tokyo. Fuuka books a flight there for tomorrow.

The next day, Gama Gama is “hollowed out”, as all of the sea creatures are placed in portable tanks bound for either Tingaara or other aquariums that requested them. Kukuru is shook by just how lonely it is with the lights on and the tanks empty…until she goes into the room where all the visitors left notes on the wall.

It’s a room full of warm gratitude, and Kukuru can’t help but smile and feel grateful for everyone who came to Gama Gama and were changed forever. Then, while walking past one of the empty tanks, Kukuru experiences another illusion, once again involving someone who looks like her sister, who gives her a loving pat on the head as if to say “you’ll be alright.”

Back home, during Kukuru and Fuuka’s last meal together for some time, Kukuru mentions the illusion she experienced, believing she’d met her “doppelganger”. This is when Gran finally decides to tell Kukuru something they were going to tell her when she grew up.

As she’s already been an aquarium director for a summer and then lost that aquarium, Gran decides she’s grown up enough. Kukuru had a twin sister…but only Kukuru was born.

I understand Gran not wanting to keep Kukuru in the dark any longer, but the timing couldn’t be worse when it comes to Kukuru and Fuuka having to say goodbye so soon. At the airport, Kukuru tries to put on a brave face, as she feels she owes it to Fuuka, who supported her dream for so long.

Airport goodbyes always get me, and Aquatope really nails it, from the awkwardly formal handshake to watching from Kukuru’s POV until Fuuka disappears into the terminal.

But that is not goodbye, because before she boards her plane, Fuuka thinks about how she only cried when she was alone after her dream ended. She thinks about how Kukuru must be crying alone right then, and decides she can’t board the plane; not now. She runs dramatically through the airport, calls Kukuru and asks where she is, and meets her out on a patio where she is, indeed crying alone.

The bottom line is, making sure Kukuru didn’t have to cry alone was far more important to Fuuka than a movie role in Tokyo. She had to be in the position where she had to choose to learn that the job wasn’t really a new dream. You could say she’s torpedoing her career simply because Kukuru’s gran got talkative about things past at the worst possible time.

Still, Fuuka simply couldn’t let the person who helped her find strength and happiness after losing everything cry by herself. After sharing some big ol’ sobby hugs like two close friends should (seriously, WTF was with that handshake earlier guys!) Kukuru decides she’ll work at Tingaara after all.

The aquarium and its fragile micro-ecosystems taught Kukuru over the years that life can be difficult, and being alive isn’t a given. It was basically a coin toss that Kukuru got to live and her sister didn’t, so she now feels doubly motivated to make those who love her proud; that includes Fuuka.

Fuuka ends up on a plane back home to Iwate as planned, but as she settles into the cozy night flight she reads the poem Gramps read during his farewell speech, about how everything eventually becomes the ocean, which is probably why whenever someone peers into “the ocean within”, they find peace. Kukuru joins in, and they finish the poem in one voice, telling each other see you tomorrow.

It’s a bold and gorgeous way to end the first half of Aquatope, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what new innovative ways the show will cause me to bawl my eyes out when the second half comes around.

The aquatope on white sand – 11 – The storm

All the color and light of previous episodes is sapped from this one, both fitting Kukuru’s mood and due to a nasty typhoon rolling into Okinawa. It’s in this dim, gray, gloomy soup that we watch Kukuru go through the Five Stages of Grief. First up is Denial and Isolation. The handmade sign says it all—NO CLOSING!as Kukuru shuts herself in Gama Gama.

Ironically, this means closing the aquarium, but due to the typhoon there won’t be any visitors anyway. Gramps decides to let Kukuru be and give everyone the day off. Fuuka goes home with him, but during lunch, decides she’s not going to leave Kukuru to endure the coming storm alone—either the literal one or the emotional one. Just as she gets up to leave, Grams has bento ready for Fuuka to take to Kukuru.

From there, Kukuru goes into the Anger stage, though to her credit she puts the energy that comes with the anger to good use, going about the daily business of feeding, maintaining, and checklisting. She enters a kind of utilitarian trance, losing herself in the work, until suddenly snapped out of it by Fuuka rapping on the door.

Not long after Fuuka arrives at Gama Gama, the typhoon arrives in force, totally blocking out the sun, and bringing sheets of diagonal rain and vicious winds to the battened-down island. These establishing shots—and the white noise of the storm—really capture how dark and spooky a really bad storm gets. Day becomes night, and the outdoors themselves become a threat to life and limb.

Kukuru’s anger re-surfaces at the arrival of Fuuka, as she’d prefer to do all of this herself. But Fuuka is as obstinate as she is, and wants to stay by Kukuru’s side to help her with her dream like she promised. Her movie role doesn’t matter right now. Before they can get deeper into their discussion, the power goes out, leaving the aquarium with only seven hours of generator power before the more sensitive sea life starts to die en masse.

Just as Kukuru can’t turn Fuuka away when the storm is at its worst, she can’t turn down her help when there’s so much to do to save the fish and creatures they can. With two pairs of hands, they can do double the work. When the wind breaks a window, Kukuru’s Bargaining stage officially begins. If she can just bar the window, just Do What’s Right, everything will work out, as her daily prayer to Kijimunaa goes.

But it’s not enough. She can’t hold back the storm from causing the power to go out, the roof to leak, the windows and pipes to break, and the sea life to gradually die in the suddenly unfavorable water conditions. Her only memory of her mom and dad was here at Gama Gama, but now, just as they were taken from her, so too is the aquarium, in slow and deliberate fashion, piece by piece.

When Fuuka sees Kukuru giving up on bargaining and entering the Depression stage, she runs over and holds her tight, telling her that even if it’s the end of Gama Gama, and of her dream, it’s not the end of the future. And if they get back to work, there’s still a future for the marine life. Only they can protect them and save them from oblivion.

Kukuru snaps out of it just as Gramps, Kai, Kuuya, and Umi-yan arrive onces the winds die down. Gramps goes into Legendary Aquarium Keeper Mode (if only whatsername was here to see it!), as he knows exactly what to do in what is clearly not his first (or fiftieth!) typhoon. Now six strong, there’s enough manpower to do what needs to be done to buy time until the power comes back on. As far as we know, they don’t lose a single fish.

That said, Gama Gama took a beating, and really showed its age. Gramps promised the man who build the aquarium that he’d close it if it ever got too old, and that time has surely arrived. Having gone through the emotional and meteorological wringer, even Kukuru realizes that it’s probably beyond token repairs or improvements, and can’t keep the precious marine life safe anymore. It’s time has simply come, as it does for all things. Thus she arrives at the final stage: acceptance.

There are few skies more beautiful than those you see after a bad storm. For one thing, you’re relieved the sun is back, while the swirling remnants of clouds and other various optical effects  give the sky a more dramatic look. The color and light slowly returns by the end of the episode. In this light, Fuuka comes to realize she wasn’t just helping Kukuru achieve her dream. By letting Fuuka help her, Kukuru was giving Fuuka strength.

Fuuka doesn’t hate working hard for someone else…especially Kukuru. So when Kukuru turns to Gama Gama’s façade, again admits it is closing, and then bursts into tears, Fuuka is all too happy to be her shoulder to cry on. What comes after acceptance? Catharsis, adaptation, struggle…and maybe—Kijimunaa willing—new dreams, and happiness.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

The aquatope on white sand – 10 – You can’t go home

Only a damn week left in August. A week of Summer Break. Until reopens, the aquarium closes, and Fuuka goes back to Iwate, among other things. After staring at the downtown monstrosity that reminded me of the Olympic Stadium in AKIRA, Kukuru is staring at that damn calendar with only seven days left.

Kai, whose first memory of Kukuru is watching her back tremble as she wept in her front yard, sees that back again. It’s not trembling, but he knows it’s troubled. But he can’t, because he’s just a little too slow and Kukuru is so distracted by her problems she doesn’t even notice Kai is there, and certainly doesn’t see him as a potential source of healing.

Kukuru isn’t really seeing Fuuka either. Fuuka did commit to supporting Kukuru’s dream when her own dream ended, but thanks to the call from Ruka, that dream is suddenly alive again if she wants it: a goddamn starring movie role. Of course she can’t share this news with Kukuru, who has no time or headspace for anything but her beloved Gama Gama. Seeing how Kukuru flails near the finish line really accentuates just how grown up and mature Chiyu was by comparison last week.

Chiyu can see her future and she’s lunging forward and grasping at it with everything she has. Kukuru is trying to keep her past her present and future. She’s so desperate, she resorts to asking Udon-chan’s mom to see if there’s a way to exploit the inscrutable magical realism moments she, Fuuka, and others have experienced. She thinks if she can put it out there on social media that Gama Gama is a “place of miracles” and a “healing power spot”, she can save it.

But just look at everyone’s faces. Kukuru’s desperation is clear to see. Udon-chan is the only one humoring her with a half-hearted, almost patronizing smile. Fuuka is quietly neutral. Karin is like this girl is going off the deep end.

During what was without doubt the most depressing watermelon-eating scene I’ve ever seen committed to the screen, Fuuka can’t hold in what’s bothering her anymore, even if it only adds to Kukuru’s problems. When Fuuka doesn’t enthusiastically say she’ll turning the movie role down, Kukuru cant stomach any more watermelon, or Fuuka’s presence.

In a way, it’s not fair. Fuuka has pretty much had to couch all of her issues while August has worn on and Kukuru’s various ideas to save Gama Gama have come and gone with the same middling success. But Fuuka isn’t sure what she’s doing anymore, which means she’s not committed to helping Kukuru salvage her dream. There’s no point in lying, and I’m glad Fuuka doesn’t, nor does Kukuru hide her disappointment.

Kai, who it’s clear has been working himself way too hard just so Kukuru has an extra strong back at the aquarium, finally gets a chance to spend some time alone with Kukuru, but it’s strictly business: she needs him to be her guinea pig to see if the “illusions” will occur for him. Kukuru’s obsession with saving Gama Gama is flattening all of her relationships. She only noticed Kai when she needed him.

Why she thinks sitting three feet away and leaning towards him with a notebook will put him in the right state to see said illusions…but like I said, Kukuru is desperate…almost as desperate as Kai is to help and console and comfort her. But once again, he’s a little to slow to call her name and reach out, as she buzzes off on her motorbike after their failed illusion session. He keeps getting so close! 

Back home, Kukuru’s Gramps gives her a talking-to about how it was wrong to try to lure supernatural otaku to the aquarium with promises of miracles and illusions. In effect, this week is when Kukuru’s illusory world finally comes into focus. Everyone but her isn’t saying Gama Gama is doomed because they’re being assholes. It’s because Gama Gama is doomed. Barring some serious Kijimunaa divine intervention, of course.

I don’t know of Kijimunaa is directly responsible for the illusions, but the reason for them is made plain (if it wasn’t already) when Kai, distraught over his inability to reach present-day Kukuru, finds himself behind the shoulder of his younger self when he first met her. Audio is added to this scene and it’s brought into context as one of countless times young Kukuru ran out of her grandparents’ house declaring through tears that she’s going home to “mommy and daddy.”

This was, predictably, the point at which I broke down in tears, and basically unconditionally forgave Kukuru for all of her transgressions both this week and in previous episodes. Kukuru lost her parents at a tender age, but not so tender that she was shielded from the weight of the loss. She was old enough to know, but wasn’t ready to accept, that they were gone. The home she knew and loved was gone too.

Past Kai hesitates just like Present Kai did three times prior, but Present Kai is there to give Past Kai a push towards Kukuru. He whips out a big, gorgeous fish he just caught, and Kukuru’s tears stop almost immediately.

Kai comes out of his illusion to a Kukuru hopeful she just witnessed him experiencing what she experienced. But to both her dejection and my own, Kai softly shakes his head. It was a beautiful memory, but just a memory. It was the past, and just the illusion of it. He doesn’t want to feed her any more illusions. Instead, rather than gathering her into a big hug, he puts up his hands so she can punch them and yells “Come!”

Kukuru cries as she punches, but Kai tells her to keep punching, as hard as she can, into his palms. I’m sure if he had a big beautiful freshly caught fish, he’d give her one to cheer her up. We later see that Kukuru posted a retraction on social media, so even that last-ditch plan ended in failure.

If I were her, I’d also be grateful for a friend willing to absorb my punches, my failures, my despair—all of it, for my sake. And when my fists (and their palms) were sufficiently red and stinging, I’d feel better, and maybe even be ready to take a step forward.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Kageki Shoujo!! – 08 – The Bus Stop by the Sea

Back at school after summer break, Hoshino Kaoru is sporting a new super-short hairstyle, in keeping with her goal to become an otoko-yaku, but soon  scolds Sarasa and Ai for allowing themselves to get a tan. Flashback to a formative summer in Kaoru’s life: the summer before her third year of high school, her last chance to get into Kouka…and when she fell in love for the first time.

Kaoru walking on sunny days with an umbrella was derided by some, not only was it odd behavior, but also presumptuous to those who knew her pedigree. While using a bus stop to the hospital to visit her gran (recovering from surgery), she encounters Tsuji Rikuto, the younger brother of a famous rising star of baseball.

Since his gran is so into the Kouka Revue and he overheard from mean girls of Kaoru’s relation, Rikuto works up the courage to ask her about the troupe, but is interrupted by another girl in love with his brother to give him her love letter. He refuses, and shortly thereafter, Kaoru tells him her name.

At first, Rikuto thinks she’s another girl trying to get closer to his bro through him, but she quickly clears that up by telling him about the expectations being the daughter of a Kouka actress and granddaughter of a top star, and he gets it; they’re like kindred spirits.

Of the two, Kaoru is the one more keen to fight against those who would define them by their more accomplished relations, and it’s her texts to him encouraging him to be himself and not worry about being compared that causes an uptick in Rikuto’s baseball play.

Their bus stop encounters and bus rides soon become something both look forward to, such that Kaoru starts visiting her gran more so she can also see Rikuto. She confides in him how she’d never be somebody to say “I’m getting in” knowing how hard it really is (Sarasa doesn’t have that problem). Kaoru is all about the hard work, right down to covering up in the sun to avoid getting tanned.

When she shows off the skirt she’s wearing, eager to wear as many as she can before she gets into wearing men’s clothes when she’s an otoko-yaku, Rikuto is sure that even if she had a mustache she’d be pretty. It’s the first time a boy ever called her pretty, and she wasn’t prepared for how happy it made her.

Rikuto eventually asks Kaoru out to the fireworks festival marking the end of summer; unaware that it would also mark the end of their brief, cozy romance. Before meeting him there, his grandmother assures her she doesn’t have to keep trying to become a Kouka actress if she doesn’t want to.

Kaoru isn’t about to tell her still-recovering gran that she’s full of shit, but she’s still down in the dumps when she meets Rikuto. For a time, him complimenting her yukata catching her when she’s pushed by some kids, and holding her hand is enough to soothe her troubled heart.

But then she asks why Rikuto seems so down, and he tells her that he’s questioning what the point of forcing himself to follow in his brother’s footsteps and fulfill everyone’s expectations of him…then he says he’s sure Kaoru thinks the same way all the time.

Kaoru…does not. Like her gran, and practically everyone else in her life, Rikuto doesn’t understand her after all; that this is precisely the path she chose to walk and she’s never questioned why she was walking it. She’s not trying to get into Kouka for anyone other than herself.

As she runs away from Rikuto in tears, she calls herself stupid for feeling jealous of the “typical high school girl’s life”, including having a boy worry about her and cheer her up. She runs along the beach singing a song, her voice wavering from her flowing tears, but eventually her voice clears as heartbreak turns into iron determination.

She swears to herself she’s going to make it. The normal life isn’t for her. She’s bound for the world of dreams and glamour.

While she intends to make a clean break by blocking Rikuto on her phone, his team actually makes it to the Koshien prelim final, and he just so happens to hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run as Kaoru is walking past a TV in the window broadcasting his game.

Despite knowing nothing about baseball (except what he taught her), and how things turned out at the fireworks festival, Kaoru is still happy Rikuto got to play, and win. Seeing him succeed on TV showed her that he didn’t give up on his path after questioning the point of it all, and after he incorrectly assumed her motives for walking hers.

She still never went back to that seaside bus stop, but it reappears again at Kouka of all places, when Sarasa sees it going viral on social media. Some mystery person left a note on the wall of the stop saying he didn’t give up and thanking another mystery person. Being a hopeless romantic, this kind of thing is right up Sarasa’s alley.

As the newly-shorn Kaoru examines the picture, she smiles knowingly and blushes ever so slightly. Of the thousands sharing that picture, only she and Rikuto know who it’s for and what it means, just like only they know what they want to do in life and are going to go after it with everything they can.

Hoshino Kaoru closes this incredibly moving portrait of her character the way one would close an epic romantic movie: by saying that when she gets to walk out on that Silver Bridge, she’ll save Rikuto “a primo seat in the SS section”…and maybe even say she was in love with him one bright, beautiful summer.

The perfect parting shot of the two having fun at the bus stop by the sea, at the height of that summer and the height of their love, was a thing of exquisite bittersweet beauty—as was the closing theme as sung by Kaoru ‘s seiyu Taichi You. And just like that, I’m in love with yet another character in this show, along with Sarasa, Ai, and Ayako.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Kageki Shoujo!! – 07 – The Curse of “Never”

Summer Break is upon Kouka’s hundredth class, but Ai’s version of giddiness over getting to spend it at Sarasa’s is somewhat tempered by how the semester ended: with Sarasa taking a major hit from Andou-sensei. As I suspected, perfect replication of other actors isn’t going to cut it if you’re going to be a Top Star in the Kouka Revue. This doesn’t mesh with what Sarasa learned about kabuki growing up, where succeeding generations of actors do their best to embody their predecessors as closely as possible.

But that’s Kabuki; and this is Kouka. Sarasa and Ai also get a little education on Andou-sensei and why he’s nicknamed “Phantom”, courtesy of the two top Kouka stars who happened to be seated in the row ahead of them! Apparently Andou was an esteemed actor with a musical troupe, most famous for his Phantom of the Opera, but due to a stage accident he had to retire, and decided to teach instead.

I’m glad he did, because as I said, as painful as it was to see Sarasa’s reaction and ensuing gloom, she was straying from the path to Lady Oscar, and needed a course correction. Fortunately, there’s plenty of family and friends waiting for Sarasa to take her mind off being “Sara-sad”, if only temporarily.

Ai insists on sitting formally for the duration of the gathering downstairs, even though she’s mostly ignored and suffering the agony needlessly (gramps told her to sit however she likes). Then Sarasa then goes to see her grandma at her grave, suggesting Ai can hang with the cat while she’s gone.

Of course, we know even when Sarasa and Ai don’t that it’s not just the cat waiting in her room, but Akiya. Ai, who is not good with people, comes off as curt with Akiya, who misinterprets it as intentional rudeness, but when Ai profusely apologizes and hides behind a wall, Akiya’s stance softens.

When asked about his “girlfriend” Sarasa, all he’ll tell Ai is that they were childhood friends since forever, and they took traditional dance classes together. Fortunately, we get to learn a lot more about both Sarasa and Akiya’s past, and Sarasa comes out even more amazing for having enduring what she had to endure.

Basically, the famous kabuki actor Kouzaburou was always very close to Sarasa, so much so that rumors floated around of her being his illegitimate daughter. Illegitimate or not, had she been a boy, she would have been the heir apparent to the venerable Shirakawa Kaou name…which Akiya is expected to assume instead. He’s far more loosely related, but he’s a boy.

It didn’t help matters for Akiya that while he liked Sarasa a lot for her strength and cheerfulness, she also happened to be a better natural talent than him when it came to Kabuki. Unfortunately, Sarasa was never sat down and told that grown women aren’t allowed to perform Kabuki.

That said, when another actor is ill, Sarasa is chosen to fill in during a performance of Sukeroku, since she memorized all the lines and movements (even back then, she was amazing). Young girls are allowed to perform, so there was no problem.

But while performing beside her, Akiya could tell how goddamn good Sarasa was, and how goddamn unfair it was that Sarasa’s Kabuki career would reach a harsh dead end due to tradition. After the performance, he first hears the rumor that Sarasa is related to Kouzaburou, which he shares with his mom/grandma/aunt/guardian (I forget her exact relation to him).

Tossing that pebble in the pond causes all kinds of drama, including his mom* chewing out poor Sarasa at the front door, telling her for the first time she’ll “never” be able to be something—in this case, Sukeroku. As soon as Sarasa runs off crying she’s immediately ashamed and regretful, but the damage is done.

Sarasa’s gramps comes to Kouzaburou’s house and chews him out for traumatizing Sarasa, and declares that she’ll have nothing to do with him or Kabuki ever again. That said, gramps softens considerably upon seeing a scared Akiya in the hall, and asks him if he’ll continue being Sarasa’s friend. He’s only cutting her off from Kabuki, he says.

Shortly after Sarasa stopped coming to dance classes, her grandma died, and Akiya and Kaou pay their respects from a distance. When Akiya sees Sarasa’s raw eyes, he starts to cry too…and Kaou tells him to hold on to the pain…it will make him a better actor.

Fast-forward to the present, and Akiya and Sarasa remain friends despite having been kinda-sorta rivals in the past. The rivalry never happened because the institution of Kabuki never let it. I’d say it’s for the best, since I have every confidence Sarasa will be okay in Kouka, but if ever there was going to be a first woman kabuki actor, it would be her!

After giving Sarasa her present of another bizarre figurine she’s super excited about (which is also see-through, for reasons), he also invites both Sarasa and Ai to a performance of Sukeroku he’ll be in. He already got clearance from her gramps.

That night, Ai learns about Sarasa’s performance in Sukeroku when she was only six. The two girls are transported into space as Sarasa beautifully, poetically describes what it was like being on that stage, feeling the audience like heat on her skin, feeling like the stage was a different world; feeling she had transformed into someone else.

It was clearly one of the most amazing moments of her life, making it doubly tragic that she was later deprived of pursuing a future there despite how much she loved it and how good she was. Even so, hearing Sarasa’s words makes Ai want to go see Sukeroku with Sarasa all the more, if only to catch a glimpse of the stage Sarasa once stood upon.

During the performance, Ai notices Sarasa crying, and isn’t sure whether it’s due to fond memories or “something else entirely.” Uh, why not both? From there, the episode abruptly cuts to the train platform where Sarasa and Ai are heading home. Akiya gives Sarasa some words of support and assurance from his heart.

He reminds her they’ve only just started down their paths; it’s okay to lose sight of what they want sometimes; and all they can do is keep moving forward. Sarasa still wants to play Lady Oscar, and she’s going to make it happen—”nevers” be damned!

She also wants Akiya to play Sukeroku. After a firm handshake (throwing Ai off a bit, as she assumed they’d at least hug), the two part ways, both feeling better than before they’d seen each other. They may not be a lovey-dovey couple, but they’re a couple where it matters.

Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House – 01 (First Impressions) – Always Giving Their All

Nozuki Kiyo and her best friend Herai Sumire moved to the Kagai district of Kyoto from Aomuri at sixteen. Sumire came to become a maiko (an apprentice geiko, the Kyoto version of geisha), while Kiyo found her place in the kitchen of the house where all the maiko live like a family. We meet Kiyo as she’s carrying a sherpa’s load of groceries for the next round of meals.

We meet Sumire when she sticks her head into the kitchen to say hi in between her extremely rigorous study and practice. After meeting with her sensei, she learns she’s been given permission to debut, making it official: she’s going to be a maiko. Kiyo hugs her and congratulates her from the bottom of her heart, and Sumire has to excuse herself to wash away her tears of joy. It’s a lovely moment between good friends on very different paths, who happen to be able to still live together.

While serving the sensei and Maiko House’s mother, Kiyo learns that Sumire is extremely special, and may have what it takes to become a “once-in-a-century maiko.” The sensei compares Kiyo’s cooking and baking skills unfavorably to her “truly impressive” friend, but Kiyo isn’t insulted or hurt…she’s in full agreement that Sumire is indeed amazing.

In fact, it’s precisely because Sumire is so amazing and always gives her all, Kiyo is able to work hard to provide the Maiko house with nourishing, savory, energy packed meals to sustain their packed schedules. Kiyo even goes a little overboard for lunch one day, serving over a half-dozen dishes that could each be supper by themselves.

While many of the maiko tap out before they can finish their portions, Sumire eats everything put in front of her, which is what Kiyo wants to see. If Sumire is going to give her all in becoming a maiko, Kiyo is going to give her all keeping her fed.

Then we meet a recently retired otokoshi, one of only a handful of men in the Kagai district who assist maiko and geiko with putting on their kimono, as well as doing heavy lifting and other manual labor the women either can’t or shouldn’t do (hernias are a bitch). In Kiyo’s case, she needs him to move the fridge so she can pull out the cookbooks that fell behind it.

Kiyo thanks the otokoshi by serving him coffee and a fresh-baked scone…a pretty good deal! Then Kiyo moves on to a matter of increasing concern for both her and the house mother: Sumire is working so hard, she’s skipping meals with regularity, and starting to lose weight.

Rather than, say, lasso Sumire and force-feed her, Kiyo plans to prepare some smaller dishes packed with energy so Sumire can quickly get the nutrients she needs to keep going. Her secret weapon is a local dish from their home prefecture of Aomuri: fried squid mince. A familiar taste of home is just what her hungry friend needs.

Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House is very straightforward, but with the subject matter it’s presenting it doesn’t have to be anything more than that. It’s also lovely to look at and full of lush blend of traditional and modern music. Hanazawa Kana and MAO are captivating as the voices of Kiyo and Sumire, and their little “Dish of the Day” omake bits provide fun punctuation between the three segments. It’s pure comfort food and a warm, soft blanket rolled into one, and I loved it!

Dokyuu Hentai HxEros – 02 – Nothing Can Stand Against Two Beating Hearts

This week we get a look into Retto’s daily life at HxEros HQ, and it’s what you’d expect of three girls with high H-Energy levels. First, the dog Runba steals Momozono Momoka’s panties and gives them to Retto, and she reacts by condemning him for not taking them himself like a man.

Then Tenkuuji Sora wakes up in Retto’s own futon, having mistaken his room for hers. Finally there Shirayuki Maihime, the “most decent” of the three, who drops kibble down her shirt compelling Runba to burrow up her shirt and lick her chest.

So we have the brash, uninhibited girl, the sleepy forgetful girl, and the maternal airhead girl. All just thin caricatures so far, but it’s enough for now. As for Kirara, one meeting with Retto’s uncle and she’s out, not ready to hear she “has what it takes” (i.e. Eros) to be a crucial part of the team.

Back at school Kirara is back to her Iron Maiden act, breaking the heart of a guy on the baseball team, and Retto lets her be, honoring his promise not to tell anyone what went down between them. Kirara can’t help but remember just how precocious and forward she used to be with Retto, even putting his hand on her chest then pulling him close so they could compare heartbeats.

When Kirara asks why Retto bothers fighting the Kiseishuu, it’s because while he can’t do anything about the fact he and Kirara’s relationship was ruined by them, he’s determined not to let it happen to anyone else. Then a bee-like Kiseishuu arrives on campus and attacks the baseball player with a crush on Kirara.

The censor bug is drawn to the kid by his lewd thoughts about Kirara, but while he’s definitely heartbroken about her brusque rejection, he still doesn’t want the bee-woman stealing all of his emotions, and Kirara isn’t about to stand by and let her.

So she goes in, confronts her, and very nearly ends up on the wrong end of her stinger. The moment Kirara thinks her goose is cooked, Retto storms in and delivers a devastating uppercut to the bee-woman, defeating her on the spot, keeping his promise never to let a bug touch Kirara ever again.

The force of his attack is such that it destroys both his and her clothes, however, so when the baseball kid comes back with a cop, they have to huddle up inside an unlocked car. Naked and sweating so close to Retto, Kirara can’t help but remember how it felt comparing heartbeats as kids…only this time it’s her heart beating faster.

Heartened by those good old days when she and Retto had fun together, Kirara reverses her decision and decides to join the HxEros after all. All she asks is that Retto refrain from using her to “recharge” his “stores” of H-Energy and/or Eros. Just as she’s about to note there’s an exception to that rule for emergencies, a stuff breeze gives Retto a full look at her lower half, and the mood curdles instantly!

Over at HxEros HQ Momoka is eager to show Kirara around, but perhaps a bit too eager to have the new quintet bonding in a mixed bath. That said, there’s an unintended positive result of dropping Retto into a pile of naked ladies and accidentally groping Kirara: she gets such a shot of H-energy that when she raises her fist in frustration it not only pokes a hole in HQ’s roof, but destroys the episode’s final boss in one shot!

“GUILTY PLEASURE” are the two words constantly flashing in my head as I watch this funny trashy lunacy. The show is keenly aware of what it is and not ashamed to go all out and flaunt it. And all the details are wonderful: everything from suggestive imagery (upturned faucets, “creative” camera angles) to beats like the bee woman protesting “First I’ve heard of it!” in response to Retto’s promise.

There’s definitely not much to other HxEros, but there’s also an underlying sweetness and depth to the central couple that makes it easier to invest in this beyond just naked bug-busting nonsense. And with above-average visuals and music, it’s a show I have no qualms watching.

P.S. The title of his review paraphrases the Klingon legend of the power of two beating hearts in love destroying the gods and burning the heavens to ashes!

Dokyuu Hentai HxEros – 01 (First Impressions) – Same as She Ever Was

We kick off the Summer 2020 season with something dumb, silly, and either fun or tedious, depending on your mileage: a show about teens fighting libido-sucking aliens with their pent-up sexual energy! The world is relying on youth to save it from a future in which no more children are born because they just can’t be bothered to get it on.

This silly (and very familiar) premise is anchored by two childhood friends Hoshino Kirara and Enjou Retto. While Kirara was once very close to and friendly with Retto, one day a switch flipped and she became someone aloof and so disgusted by boys she won’t even touch anything they touched without gloves. At school she’s given the nickname “Iron Maiden”.

Meanwhile, Retto became a superhero. Assuming an alien (called Kiseishuu or “Censor Bugs”) sapped Kirara of all her emotions five years ago, he swore that he wouldn’t let the same awful fate befall anyone else without him doing something about it. That “something” involves focusing his “erotic power” to defeat the Kiseishuu.

One day, while Retto is trying to apologize to Kirara for accidentally groping her when she slipped on steps (as you do), a Kiseishuu who has grown powerful collecting the libidos of townsfolk confronts the two, and Retto doesn’t quite have the necessary power to defeat it.

Retto takes Kirara’s hand in his and flees, and Kirara, touching a boy for the first time in years and not disliking it, is suddenly overcome by erotic energy. Turns out the Kiseishuu didn’t suck all of it out of her years ago; instead it realized she was an exceptionally ridiculous wellspring of the stuff, and she intentionally suppressed it out of shame.

With the monster bearing down on them both, she finally frees her heart from the iron maiden in which it had been locked away, and in the ensuing sharing of energy with Rettou, the two manage to pulverize the Kiseishuu into the stone age. Naturally, a side-effect of using their powers means all of their clothes are torn off.

In the afterglow of their ecchi victory, Kirara offers to help Retto with his alien-bashing work going forward, even slipping up and using his first name after years of refraining from doing so. Then the other three members of Retto’s HxERO superhero group appear to introduce themselves to Kirara, their newest member. Oh and by the way, they all live together, no doubt to keep their HxEro force in top form.

Both the realization she and Retto are nude and the realization he’s been living with three other girls compel Kirara to deliver a couple blows to Retto, but there’s no going back now! Like them, Kirara was born to do this, and no less than the future of humanity depends on their continued victories over the aliens.

So there you have it! As I said earlier, this was silly, dumb, fun, harmless stuff, and even has a smidgen of heart to it what with the pure childhood-friend affection between Kirara and Retto at its core. Production values get the job done, neither embarrassing or exceptional, while the ecchi elements so far follow a restrained less-is-more pattern.

It’s not great, but it was better than I expected as it went along. At the very least, I’ll be checking out the next episode to see how Kirara fits into the superhero milieu.

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