Little Witch Academia – 16

The Gist: Team Akko visits Lotte’s family and immediately befalls an outrageously rare curse that slowly turns everyone into moss. (before eventual death) Without adult supervision, the Girls must band together and collect the ingredients for a cure. However, Akko quickly becomes the only one left and, not knowing the area or as much about magic as her friends, she struggles until the end.

But this is LWA we’re talking about. Akko learns patience and, coupled with her natural endurance, and Shiny Rod, she saves the day and unlocks another word! (MAYENAB DYSHEEBUDO)

This week gave us some great set pieces like the Yeti who’s self conscious due to internet bullying, the irritated reindeer who’s poop Akko must collect, and the general goofiness of the curse.

It also carried the usual Akko/Sucy/Lotte charm, with Sucy’s love of the Hapansilakka pies (and Akko’s hatred of it) playing for some good laughs.

However, episode 16 is absolutely rushed and it’s point about Akko needing to learn patience was too simplistic. The fact that we learn anger is the most efficient medium for magic to be absorbed by the villain’s robo/magic devices doesn’t really add anything. More so, because we see this from a disconnected viewer-point of view, and not through a revelation to our heroes.

If LWA was only 12 episodes long, I could forgive it, but that’s not the case. More importantly, many of the first 12 episodes felt rudderless and pointless diversions from the central plot.

The Verdict: From the moment Professor Ursula says the next word is something Akko lacks and really needs to learn, the entire point of the episode becomes groan-inducingly clear. It’s all delivered well enough, with plenty of quirky LWA details and nice animation, but there’s nothing creative under the surface.

Hopefully, Akko will learn the next few words through a more dramatic (or at least touching) process. Otherwise, the gains the show has made by establishing it’s long term focus will quickly fall apart.

Little Witch Academia – 15

The Gist: Professor Croix’s villainy is finally revealed, as is Akko’s destiny. This is in large part because Akko is lured to Croix’s lab and experimented on in her sleep, in the name of learning more about Chariot (and Shiny Rod). All of this leads to a magic battle with Ursula, which results in an anticlimactic stand off, despite some impressive effects leading up to it.

Having no time to waste, Ursula lays out the history of the great tree, of which only the leylines remain, and the importance of the 7 words, and that Akko’s spirit has been reviving them. She literally walks Akko through the memories of waking these words, which fills Akko with purpose and joy.

However, for whatever reason, she does not reveal that she is Chariot, nor does she warn Akko of Croix’s motives…

The good bits stuck close to Ursula this week. While the resulting face off with Croix was anti-climactic and unnecessary, Ursula’s battle up the steps of the new moon tower was nicely animated and gave us a great look at the powers of a competent witch. It was also nicely foreshadowed, as Akko walked past the dangerous looking archer statues and creepy decorations.

Ursula’s motherly explanation to Akko about the words was full of great feels too. While I don’t think a secret mother-daughter plot will be revealed, the filial love and pride was all there, and it was delivered with respectable subtlety.

As interesting side notes, there’s division amongst the students over Croix. While some students carry their tablets openly (reading ongoing stories about the shooting star no less) others like Amanda don’t see the point. If magic and science are the same thing, what is the value of magic in the first place?

Meanwhile, Diana Is starting to figure out Ursula is more than meets the eye. I suspect she will reveal the identity to Akko, which will pose a short term betrayal twist for Akko/Croix vs Ursula, before Akko x Diana join forces to save the day… but I suspect that’s many episodes off yet. (Diana is still looking for Ursula in the old Luna Nova year books)

The Verdict: Unfortunately, Little Witch Academia remains a not especially well constructed narrative. This is most obvious in the show’s use of repetition of scenes, which feel like a mix of filler and a lack of confidence in the audience to get (or even remember) what was important in previous episodes. Given the sluggish pacing and lack of focus, that lack of faith may even be deserved, but it feels no less like a cop out.

Take Croix as an example of LWA’s clunky structure. Not only is Croix not foreshadowed or built up in the first 13 episodes, but Croix herself claims to have been secretly observing Akko all this time. This makes her appearance as an antagonist feel rushed and tacked on and that lack of build up robbed the first season of purpose.

Compare this to the bizarre choice to keep Shooting Star as a recurring element that will, no doubt, play a roll in Akko’s eventual success — or compare it to Diana being in the crowd behind Akko at Chariot’s show during their childhoods’ — and you just have to wonder why Croix didn’t receive the same treatment? For goodness sakes, Andrew has had more build up than Croix, and he remains without any relevant narrative purpose…

In the end, the heart and rendering style carry LWA just above a 7, but not by much. I may go so far as say it’s the most disappointing show I’ve reviewed in a while, and the most disappointing I would still recommend you view.

Little Witch Academia – 14

The Gist: Luna Nova’s faeries form a workers union and go on strike. This is due to the very meager amount of life-giving magic energy shared with them by the school but the school cannot afford to give them more. Magic is fading from the world, after all.

An angry Akko attempts to break up the union but manages to be swayed by their argument. So much so that the faeries make her the union’s general secretary, which leads to a great scene where Akko shuts down Diana with chants of ‘Aristocrat.’ Also, the faeries seal off the philosopher’s stone, which shuts off everyone’s ability to cast magic.

Enter Professor Croix on a flying Roomba, who will teach modern magic and has begun integrating magic and technology, and is most definitely not secretly behind the strike, with her robots nor her need to get the school to buy into her research program. Her program, Sorcery Solution System, can fix the dwindling magic issues for everyone, and does, for now…

The Good: This week was full of clever details and subtle humor. From Croix’s flying roombas being the ‘evolution’ of brooms, to the headmistress’ “Oh my, what a textbook downward trend” response to a magic PowerPoint presentation, to the Shooting Star being featured on the back of Akko’s newspaper again, the world and the people in it all get a great deal of building up. (and it’s funny and charming to boot)

It’s also interesting to see parallels between Akko x Diana and Ursula x Croix, and to play with Akko being quite taken with Croix, and still unaware that Ursula is actually Chariot, the one witch Akko would align with most strongly in the world. (But may no longer, since Ursula has cocked up revealing the destiny plot for so long)

The Meh: The new opening credits sequence is clunky. It presents the Akko x Diana conflict and future Croix x Ursula conflict way too obviously, with little visual flair and forgettable music.

It’s also jarring to introduce a central villain in the second season of a show and, while that villain mirrors other themes established in the first season (magic’s inability to adapt to a technological era), it’s just so out of left field. (“Oh here’s the new teacher” is literally quipped by the headmistress.) More over, the ‘tragedy’ of Ursula not being able to tell Akko about her destiny comes off as hamfisted McShakespeare.

The Verdict: Little Witch Academia is the Anakin Skywalker of Anime. It’s the theoretical perfect storm of natural talent, it plugs into something we want to see more of (anything from Trigger) but the production around it is constructed with such a solid lack of common sense and competent story telling that you could often be excused for thinking you could write something better.

Will it go Darth Vader and kill all its younglings, or will it stay focused and never give me a reason to use a clunky Star Wars metaphor again? Only time will tell!

Little Witch Academia – 13

The Gist: The Samhain Festival is quickly approaching and Team Akko can not escape their fate as sacrifices to the sorrowful ghost Vajarois…and Sucy and Lotte can not escape the feeling that Akko’s plan to make that sacrifice more fun, is just a lot of wasted effort.

However, things begin to turn around when Diana’s lackeys Hannah and Barbara pull Akko aside and chew her out for the ‘trick’ she played on her. While making fun of Akko’s place in life, they go out of their way to throw shade at Lotte’s lack of presence and Sucy’s creepiness…while those two are within earshot in the hall. And why not? Team Akko isn’t anything but the laughable leftover losers in their eyes, and in the eyes of much the rest of the school.

The Samhain Festival gets underway and it becomes quickly apparent that the guest witches’ opinion of Luna Nova isn’t much better than Andrew’s muggle father’s. The traditional events largely bore them, or are done incorrectly like the bubbling pot that spits slime at them or the dancing flower that eats one of the girls casting the spell.

Curiously, the guest witches heap much of their criticism at the feet of Luna Nova’s Grand Mistress, Miranda Holbrooke. This struck me as a bit strange, only because Holbrooke has come off as stodgy as Professors’ Badcock and Finneran (At least, she had until Akko had raised her father from the dead a few episodes ago). Regardless, the visiting witches don’t give any examples of why Holbrooke’s management has been deficient, though she certainly lets Team Akko run with their tradition breaking idea—going so far as to restrain the other professors from interfering.

Speaking of Team Akko, with an energized Sucy and Lotte now by her side, Akko puts on a slapsticky ‘Sacrifice Show’ for Vajarois and the guest witches. While many of the laughs are at Akko, whose magic transformations teeter on the edge of failure, the crowd is laughing and, eventually, the trio manages to lift Vajarois’ curse in a fantastic display of light and pleasure.

The emotion of it all even reaches Diana, who can’t wrap her head around what she’s seeing, and who she’s seeing do it. More interestingly, she’s shocked to learn that Akko’s group isn’t even allowed to qualify for “Moonlit Witch,” because they broke the rules, in spite of creating a good and unexpected result appreciated by all in attendance, including the dissipating ghost herself…

Thankfully, winning “Moonlit Witch” was never really the point for Akko. As much as she said otherwise, all she wanted was to do some magic that other people thought was fun, and to do it with her friends.

Confronting traditions seems to be the major theme this week. That, and that witches are overly focused on magic without practical application, and don’t appreciate that practical application is needed in their world, and needed to justify them to the non-magical world.

Like AkkoAmanda, Jasminka and Constanze put on a great show of skill cleaning up after the failures of the traditional performances and, like Akko, that trio is payed no mind at all because of their place in life (magical janitors).

Even Diana’s masterful performance rings a bit hollow, as summoning a magic unicorn doesn’t serve a practical application in comparison. Diana hasn’t made that exact connection yet, but it will be interesting to see if she carries more respect for Akko and the others into future episodes. Because she was impressed, even just for the magic’s sake, this time around.

The Verdict: LWA has re-tightened it’s grip on my heart these past few weeks. Putting aside the lackluster episodes that weakened that grip mid-season, LWA knows how to charm with western style slapstick (Sucy’s casual pointing as Team Akko plummets to the ground is pure Bugs Bunny) and simple power of friendship themes.

The battle against tradition is an interesting focus as well. Consider how strange it is that Luna Nova has had the ability to lift Vajarois‘ curse for ages—right there on the shelf—but none of the witches have bothered to investigate, let alone try it out. Its little wonder that a baffoon like Akko is needed to shake up their world.

How this all plays into Chariot’s secret identity and the greater magic words plot, who knows? (I didn’t see Akko unlock another word this time out) Regardless, it moved the characters along, the world along, and was a hoot to watch throughout!

Little Witch Academia – 12

I’m pleased to report that this week’s LWA did not squander the goodwill earned in last week’s exemplary outing, as there is now a significant event at Luna Nova, the Samhain Festival, which will take us to the halfway point.

Akko knows that Chariot was named “Moonlit Witch” at her Samhain Festival, so naturally wants to pull off the same honor. She doesn’t accept the “sacrifice” duty she drew from lots, and her friends’ discouraging (if realistic) words only make her more mad, so she storms out of her dorm.

She happens upon an exchange between Committee Chairman Diana and some students who have collected some mirrors for their duty. The one Diana recommends is a “prankster” variety that, when Akko looks in it, gives her Diana’s form and voice.

Some decent comedy ensues, with every passerby asking Diana for help, including her two groupies, who Akko decides to pull a prank on by telling them they’re cursed, drawing on their faces, and leaving them in the courtyard all day and night. I’d say that’s harsh, but these girls have been asking for her wrath, and they get it here.

But thankfully, while masquerading as Diana, Akko learns a little bit more about her rival, specifically, that Diana doesn’t take her status and pedigree for granted. She works very very hard, and juggles many many responsibilities. She and Akko are also after the same thing: making the world a better place for magic again.

Akko-Diana is found out by the real Diana while trying in vain to cast a life-breathing spell on a giant statue of Jessica. Diana not only takes care of the statue, but returns Akko to her normal form. She also mentions that Akko skipped out on her meeting with her, Lotte and Sucy for her sacrifice duty.

Diana chastises Akko (and rightly so) for making big bold claims without anything to back it up, wanting to excel as a witch without putting in any of the necessary hard work, and pitching hissy-fits whenever she doesn’t immediately get her way. Akko’s only comeback is yet another big bold, baseless claim: that she and not Diana will be Moonlit Witch at Samhain.

But later, while reflecting on her own, Akko regrets those words and laments the reality: her chances of fulfilling her claim are pretty much zero, in the face of Diana’s talent, bloodline, and work ethic.

Chari-err…Ursula, who promised her mentor she’d aid Akko in the quest to revive the seven words, tells Akko what she thinks Chariot would do: only what she can do, and not compare herself to others.

When Ursula leaves her, the Shiny Rod lights up and directs Akko back to the Fountain of Polaris. This time, Akko asks it what only she can do, and she’s shown someone’s memory of talking to a younger Chariot as she’s practicing various amazing transformation magics.

But what strikes Akko about this memory, is how joyful Chariot seems as she’s performing her magic, and that it doesn’t at all look like she’s training to win the Moonlit Witch contest, but merely honing the magic that interests her; doing only what she can do. A light bulb goes off in Akko’s head: now she knows what only she can do…though she isn’t so kind as to tell us.

We’ll just have to find out what that is, and whether it helps her chances at Moonlit Witch, next week, when the Samhain Festival begins in earnest. We’ll also see if Akko manages to escape sacrifice duty.

Little Witch Academia – 11

Finally, finally LWA stops spinning its wheels with skeleton chases and fancy balls and throws us some juicy story meat, revealing the role Akko will play (or rather, is playing) in reversing the accelerating decline in magic throughout the world.

The reason Charior is so intent on helping Akko isn’t out of regard for her biggest fan: it’s because she believes Akko could be the witch to stem the tide of magical oblivion. Of course, Akko still doesn’t know Ursula is Chariot, and it stays that way, but Ursula still relays a very Chariotesque saying: “That which is dreamed cannot be grasped, but work towards it, day after day, and you will find it in your hands.” 

She’s telling Akko not to be so focused on the future and her ultimate dream—to become an amazing witch like Chariot—and instead focus on the extremely hard day-to-day work that’s needed just to become a competent witch. And Akko has been working harder, with Ursula giving her after-school lessons every day for a month.

By mentioning the blue moon, Ursula probably did not intend to send Akko digging through her trading cards, finding one that references a “blue moon apparition” in the bowels of Luna Nova—but that’s where Akko goes, when the moon is high, notably without Lotte and Sucy tagging along.

Akko’s journey deeper into the abyss is a return to the sense of awe and wonder I got from earlier LWA episodes. Watching Akko continue to move forward even in the midst of terrifying stone witches (and even a false Chariot trying to discourage her), earned her back some serious likability points in my book.

As she explores deep below the school, Diana searches the towering shelves of Luna Nova’s deep archive on her broom. The same blue moon that guides Akko also shows Diana the book related to the quest Akko doesn’t even know she’s already on: the unlocking of something called the Arcturus using seven words to unseal the “Grand Triskelion” that will “change the world.”

I can forgive Diana’s largely expository role because the archive is so cool-looking. As for the seven words, Akko unwittingly revived the first when she opened the portal to Luna Nova back in the first episode. This week she unwittingly reives the second.

She does so by rejecting the future the “blue moon apparition” offers to her, for the low, low price of, oh, her entire past, including memories of everyone she’s known, even Chariot, as well as all the mistakes she’s learned from.

She’d rather achieve that future on her own rather than taking a shortcut, and by saying the magic words that translate into Ursula’s words (about “that which is dreamed” being attained through day-to-day toil), she not only turns the Shiny Rod into an axe but uses it to free the apparition from the wood to reveal a beautiful otherworldly woman.

That woman is Woodward, the professor who inspired Chariot when she was a student at Luna Nova. Woodward was testing Akko, and for once, she passed: the second of seven words has been revived.

What happens when the remaining five words are revived? The Shiny Rod, AKA Claiomh Solais, will break the seal of Arcturus and release the Grand Triskelion, which will “change the world,” presumably for the better as far as witches and magic goes.

In a way, this episode felt like a seal had been broken, not only unveiling the overarching plot and indicating a clear path for Akko, but restoring the show’s wondrous atmosphere, was well as my faith in it going forward. For now, at least, my concerns have been nicely allayed.

Tales of Zestiria the X – 03

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Three episodes in (four if you count the prologue) and we still only know three of the eight party members in the OP, so the show largely skips past Sorey and Mikleo’s journey to the point where they’re at Ladylake’s gates, meeting the fourth (future) member. She’s got rosy hair, so I’ll call her Rose for now.

Were it not for Rose, Sorey wouldn’t be able to enter the city. That being said, Mikleo doesn’t do well around so many humans, who excrete a miasma of malevalence due to the worries about a war between Hyland and neighboring Rolance.

Princess Alisha’s non-aggressive stance, refusing to launch a preemptive strike, is only intensified by her experience in Elysia, where she say her dream of mankind (well, one man) coexisting with the Seraphim. Also, the hellion is also in Ladylake, though apparently not to kill Alisha, only to observe.

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The rest of the episode takes place within the confines of a kind of great temple to the sacred blade, which is stuck in a rock smack dab in the center. No pun intended, the relatively close quarters prove a double-edged sword, compared to the more exciting hellion chase last week or earlier this week on Ladylake’s rooftops.

It’s good that things are so compressed in this one room, because it ups the tension. There’s also the sense that the assassin hired by frustrated warmonger Lord Bartlow is closing in and tightening the noose on Alisha.

Of course, there’s no mistaking Komatsu Mikako’s wonderful voice, so it was clear the moment the female assassin started talking that she was Rose, the girl Sorey met. The episode isn’t coy about this, also showing her piercing blue eyes a small glimpse of her rosy hair under the helmet.

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Sorey and Mikleo learn that the Lady of the Lake is a Seraphim who dwells right beside the sacred blade, though no one can see her but them. After Alisha delivers a speech that goes over with the crowd about as well as Ted Cruz’s at the RNC last week, the Malevalence coalesces into a giant hellion in dragon form, at about the same time Rose attacks Alisha.

Suddenly the vast interior of the temple feels like a suffocating braizer in which Alisha is fighting for her live against a very skilled opponent (who uses a very different style than a knight would) and a boss none of the people can fully see causing a right ol’ ruckus.

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Of course, we know what has to happen here: Sorey must take grasp the sacred blade, form a contract with the lady (named Lailah), and pull it out of the stone. Sorey becomes Lailah’s vessel, transforming him into a dazzling dandy of a hero to slay the dragon with the blade.

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The dragon is slain, and the assassin withdraws, but Sorey has been warned: being the Shepherd will be an exhausting, alienating, thankless, lonely job. I’m not so sure about that last bit, especially after seeing that ED featuring Sorey hanging out with Alisha, Rose, Mikleo, and the rest of the party he has yet to assemble.

So far, each episode has set out to progress Sorey’s story by a notch, and has so far succeeded. Alisha’s prologue set the stage. Then Sorey and Mikleo met Alisha. Then Alisha invited Sorey to Ladylake, where he met Lailah and became the Shepherd.

It’s a brisk, efficient pace that manages not to feel too hurried or contrived. The addition of Komatsu Mikako to an already strong voice cast is always welcome. And, as expected, ufotable’s visuals and music continue to be beyond reproach.

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Ushio to Tora – 16

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As expected, Satoru is saved from falling to his death by Ushio’s spear, but despite Jun temporarily getting through to him, his body and mind remain possessed by the Hiyou. Watching Jun shed more tears for her all-but-doomed brother, Ushio can’t sit back or get on with his own business. Not while a girl is crying. He’s going in!

To aid Ushio on his foolhardy, extremely dangerous and possibly soul-rending mission into Satoru’s body, the Elder of Ungaikyou lends the services of a youkai used to such trips, the fuzzy green Izuna. He may be tiny, but he makes an immediate impact, as new characters on UtT tend to do.

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This then becomes a Very Special Magic School Busstyle journey into the body, with Ushio, Tora, and Izuna being shrunk down to the size of microbes, travelling between bones, muscles, and organs to battle Satoru’s Hiyou infestation as Jun, Nagare and the others hold him down.

The concept’s more than a little silly, but I appreciate the audacity nonetheless, as well as the dual perspectives on the battle. Also, the more Ushio battles, the more of his soul the Beast Spear takes, and that spear is probably playing for keeps.

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When the trio nears Satoru’s brain, they meet the Hiyou boss, Chibakama, who then gives Ushio a glimpse of what his boss Hakumen no Mono looks like in order to frazzle the kid further.

Ushio initially says he has nothing against Hakumen personally, but that’s only because he knows so little about him. In reality, Hakumen is all but pure evil; the manifestation of the world’s hatred. He’s not just Ushio’s enemy, but the enemy of all living things and monsters alike.

Izuna sacrifices his body to stop Chibakama from killing Ushio, in doing so taking a selfless page from the Beast Spear wielder himself. Meanwhile, Tora sets up a plan to rid Satoru of Chibakama once and for all; a plan that requires Jun to disrobe and summon her anti-youkai power in the nearby river. Alright then!

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Using Satoru’s eyes as a conduit between the world within and without him, Satoru shoots all her power at Chibakama, being held in front of the eye by Izuna, who fully intends to die with him.

Ushio doesn’t let that happen. Instead, he tells the spear it can take the rest of his soul if it means he can stop others from dying for his sake. The combined power of Jun and Ushio petrify and destroy Chibakama, and Satoru wakes up himself.

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When he hears the person he admits he was jealous of (thus allowing the Hiyou into his body), he cries tears both of guilt and gratitude for his still-absent saviour, and wouldn’t you know it, inside one of those tears is Ushio, Tora, and Izuna! Again, very goofy, but the show sells the shit out of everything it lays out.

Jun then finally gets to thank her bro, only to learn he knew she was grateful anyway, and had been thanking him by accepting him, loving him, and staying by his side, even when he falls. As for Ushio, he’s glad he stopped another girl from crying tears of despair…but he should probably revise his goals to allow tears of relief, gratitude, and happiness.

Oh, and then there’s the matter of the Beast Spear transforming him into a grotesque, inhuman beast with demonic crystal eyes. No good deed goes unpunished!

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Ushio to Tora – 15

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This week’s UtT starts out in deliciously absurd fashion as Ushio is once again a passenger on a runaway vehicle—this time a bus being controlled by Hakumen’s lesser youkai minions, the hiyou. One or two of them are no problem, but as this arc has proven, get enough of them together and they’re a menace.

When they learn of Ushio’s latest dilemma, Nagare and Tora both race to the speeding bus, and the three then use a neat bit of teamwork to rescue the 40+ passengers. It involves Nagare slicing off the ends of the bus, Tora blowing out the people, and Nagare catching them with a magic barrier. Then Ushio stops the bus by stabbing the Hiyou with the spear.

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The passengers are safe, with no serious injuries, but Ushio is racked by guilt over what happened to them and how much worse things could have potentially gotten. But it’s a burden the wielder of the beast spear must bear, and Nagare doesn’t want to see his pathetic face, so he  starts asking him about the girls in his life, and Ushio’s scowl turns into a blush.

Nagare, Ushio, and Tora then encounter what looks like a group of Stigs, but are actually former potential spear wielders who didn’t make the cut. They include the long golden-haired biker girl Moritsuna Jun, whose big brother Satoru is an onmyou master and one of the four chosen along with Nagare and Hinowa.

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Jun can’t find Satoru, but then he turns up with a fearsome shikigami called a hiruko, targeting Ushio. Nagare and Jun can’t do anything against it, but Tora tears through it, and the deranged Satoru has to retreat for the time being. Tora opines that Satoru’s body has been taken over by the Hiyou, like the bus, and has become their latest instrument for disposing of Ushio.

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Unsure of how to proceed, Ushio remembers he can contact the Elder of Ungaikyou through any mirror, even a rest stops! The elder puts him in touch with the tengu Osa, who informs Ushio that the only way to remove the Hiyou from Satoru’s brain is to become an apparition or monster, which Ushio does whenever he wields the spear, enter Satoru’s body, and destroy the infestation. But it’s a risky proposition: the spear could very well consume Ushio’s entire soul in the process. So Ushio is faced with a choice: risk his own humanity to save another, or put him out of his misery.

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Of course, Ushio doesn’t really see that it’s much of a choice, especially when he sees how distraught Jun is and why: her brother once had trouble controlling his spiritual powers, and when he saved her from a low-level youkai, he ended up scaring her.  Ever since, she’s wanted to properly thank him.

To see Ushio’s reaction to her story, you just know he’ll put even excising the regrets of others before his own life; to do so would only add to his guilt and make it even harder to live with himself. At the same time, he has responsibilities as the true chosen wielder of the spear. At some point he must put his selflessness and emotions aside and think about the bigger picture.

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Satoru returns as promised, he has a few tricks out of the gate, and combined with Ushio’s uncertainty about how to handle this situation, the good guys are quickly on their heels. But it’s Jun who grabs hold of her brother and won’t let go that eventually draw the real Satoru out and make him come to his senses.

But once he does, and realizes what he’s done, he too is overcome by guilt and regret, harking back to how his sister recoiled when he last lost it. He’s so overcome, in fact, that he doesn’t believe he should live anymore, and leaps backwards off a cliff, giving us…a cliffhanger. Of course, considering Tora—who can fly—is around, and Satoru features prominently in the OP and ED, I’m not willing to write Jun’s bro off just yet. Catch’im, Tora!

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Ushio to Tora – 14

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As we begin UtT’s second cour, Ushio is finally in Hokkaido, but his hardships are far from over: not only is Hakumen no Mono sending thousands of little minnions out to grab the spear, there are others—humans—who want the spear too, and not because they’re greedy or evil, but simply because they think it’s their birthright…and they’ll be damned if some denim-wearing snot-nosed punk kid is going to butt in line for it.

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He meets the first of these “rightful successors” as HnM’s minions start to coalesce into a larger beast. Her name is Sekimori Hinowa of the Kouhamei sect, and her game is to take possession of the Beast Spear. Very tall, very tough, and sporting a very no-nonsense outfit and haircut, she actually makes some pretty good points about Ushio’s ownership thus far. His lack of training has caused him a lot more trouble and collateral damage than would have occurred were he able to properly “hear” the spear.

So Sekimori snatches it away, and when Ushio refuses her offer to hit her in frustration, she hits himOH NO SHE DIDN’T! But her comeuppance is swift; the Beast Spear won’t answer her call; it ignores her completely, and what would have been an easy beast to slay starts wailing on her.

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Proving he’s neither one to hit a girl nor to stand by and let even someone who wronged him get killed, Ushio launches himself between Sekimori and the monster. When it tries to take her as a hostage with its tentacles, he fires his spear, slashing them to bits, along with her prim-and-proper clothes, in one of UtT’s more amusing executions of fanservice. The beast, for it’s part, is disgusting sinister in its design.

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To put a cherry on top of our Sekimori Schadenfreude Sundae, when Ushio is in a tight spot for saving her, Tora blasts in to free him so he can regain his handle on the spear and do his thing, slicing the monster in half and such. In the aftermath, a rather chastened and rebuked (but not ready to admit it) Sekimori accepts Ushio’s ownership of the spear and his “bizarre youkai” companion…for now. Mizuki Nana (Ange in Cross Ange) provides the right amount of superiority and bitchiness to the character, and UtT once again introduces a dynamic, interesting new character in no time at all.

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With that, Ushio continues his journey to Asahikawa, and has time to reflect on why the spear chose him when there were more capable people training their bodies and minds their entire lives for the privilege. While wondering if he’s really worthy, it seems to respond, but in a familar, barely-disguised voice of Tora lurking behind him. Hey, it was worth a try!

Then the second member of the Kouhamei sect, Akiba Nagare, shows up (on a boss motorcycle), only he’s more interested in Tora than Ushio, and when Tora challenges him, they dance in lightning and fire. Only unlike the usual youkai, Akiba is up to the task, having researched Tora for years and knowing how to counter his moves.

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It isn’t long before Akiba literally has Tora nailed to the wall, and he wants to know what Tora’s game is; why he hasn’t eaten Ushio but actually saved him and other humans. He’s convinced it must be some kind of dastardly scheme hatched by a 2000-year-old monster from China.

But after proving he can be a monster if pushed hard enough (tearing all four of his limbs off, crawling around on his hair like a spider, and kicking Akiba’s ass), Tora tells Akiba anyway: he doesn’t really know why he hasn’t eaten Ushio…but he knows he’s never bored when he’s around him. In that regard, Tora really has started to understand the human heart—not just to exploit them for nefarious purposes, but to coexist and protect them.

And with the remnants of the beast they dispersed earlier possessing the tour bus Ushio is on, Ushio’s going to need Tora’s help yet again.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 10

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This episode features the unlikely but increasingly tolerable pairing of Nanami and a somewhat humbled (and therefore more reasonable) Brother Jiro, as they search for the Sojobo’s soul. He’s still stern and no nonsense, but he doesn’t prevent Nanami from following him down into a secret cavern.

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Jiro even tells her this was where Shinjuro got into trouble with a thunderbolt beast, and where Suiro lost his ability to fly by rescuing him. But when Jiro drops into a deeper chasm, even when lightning shoots up, nay, because it does, Nanami goes in after Jiro, not because she doesn’t trust him, but because he had the bearing of a man going to his death.

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The beast rears its head for Nanami first, and while she’s able to fire off a barrier against evil, it counterattacks with a massive lightning strike. It’s in this moment Jiro finally understands why Suiro saved Shinjuro and regrets nothing: the despair of losing his ability to fly was small compared to the despair of losing someone he loves.

Before Suiro knew it, he was moving to save Shinjuro. And before Jiro knows it, he’s moving to save Nanami, whom he admits he’s fallen for, and can’t bear to watch die.

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I love how over-the-top Shinjuro’s reaction to learning the soul is hidden in the same place where he was traumitized, but he quickly composes himself, knowing that not only is he a far stronger tengu now, in part because of that experience, but he’s also not alone: Tomoe is with him and Nanami is further in.

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Tomoe dispatches the “kitten” with his superior fox fire, but he isn’t able to bask in the light of Nanami’s gratitude for saving her as he usually does. Nanami is too concerned with Jiro, who is badly injured and loses consciousness.

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In a really nice icebreaker, the defeated thunderbolt beast, suddenly not so fearsome-looking anymore, coughs up the Sojobo’s soul like a hairball. Kamisama Kiss has always been great at tempering or punctuating its more serious scenes with lighter fare. Unlike, say, Violin girl, its slapstick never ruins the mood, but rather keeps it in check.

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Nanami’s continued concern for Jiro irks Tomoe, because he doesn’t like the idea of Nanami, whom he likes, worrying about another man. Still, he’s able to comfort her by assuring her Jiro will happily bear whatever consequences he must, because he got to save Nanami. He speaks form his own extensive experience: saving Nanami is always worth it.

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Kamisama Kiss puts on a romantic comedy/drama clinic this week, perfectly balancing Nanami’s joy and relief when Jiro comes to (thanks to her peach pills) with the embarrassment of walking in on a nude Jiro being bathed by Suiro.

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Tomoe initially playfully teases Nanami, but as usual goes a little bit farther than he should due to his own frustration of holding in his true feelings for the lass. When he tells her it makes no difference to him whether she goes back home with him or stays with Jiro to get to know him better, it clearly wounds Nanami, who contrary to Tomoe’s jealous suspicions, hasn’t simply flipped her love switch from Tomoe to Jiro.

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Still, Jiro did manage to do one thing Tomoe hasn’t been able to yet: clearly confess his feelings for Nanami. So at the cherry blossom tree viewing/Sojobo & Jiro recovery party (that’s a mouthful), Nanami is receptive to Jiro’s own attempts at courtship, which aren’t bad for someone who’s never laid eyes on a woman before.

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The beauty of the restored cherry tree makes for about as romantic a locale as one could hope for, but as much charm and respect Jiro has for Nanami, when she tells him how precious the peach pills she used to save him are, and how she wants Tomoe to have them if anything ever happens to her, it becomes clearer to him that he’s barking up the wrong tree.

Consider: when he flew her up into the tree, in a moment of fear Nanami called out for Tomoe. Also, when she has too many high-proof sake-filled steamed buns and gets wasted, she repeats his name again and again. With the walls of sobriety down, she also lowers her toughing-it-out mask. The only one she wants is Tomoe, and she’s far more happy being carried on his warm comfortable back than being in the middle of a cherry tree with Jiro.

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She even unabashedly lets off an “I love you”, not her first nor her last directed at Tomoe. And perhaps knowing she’s passed out and won’t hear it, he says he loves her too out loud. It’s a small step, but he knows it’s a necessary one.

As Shinjuro tells him, it’s precisely because human lives are so short, that if you have to say something, you’d better say it before it’s too late. Tomoe has technically said what he needs to say, but this time doesn’t count. Can he do it when Nanami is conscious? We’ll see.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 09

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I had a feeling this “heist” episode was going to be a good one, but I wasn’t prepared for how much ass it kicked, much of it courtesy of our heroine Nanami. It’s quite simply one of her finest hours. It’s all because she has to be herself, which means tapping into her stores of morality, decency, and emptahy along with her increasingly potent divine powers.

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But first of all, I just want to reiterate that Tengu Nanami just made my year. He/She is so friggin’ cute she makes Botanmaru look like a pile of puke! The spiral glasses are a particularly nice touch. But along with that cuteness comes great strength.

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But anyway, the reason Nanami is able to steal the show is that the (somewhat) carefully orchestrated operation doesn’t go according to plan. Kurama had hoped to get Jiro drunk on mundane world medicinal alcohol, but the bull has formidable tolerance.

Tomoe, furious that Jiro hurt Nanami, tries to work his magic, posing as a slightly sultrier Nanami to throw Jiro off his game (helped at least a little by the booze). It works for a time; at least long enough for Nanami to find the Sojobo.

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Kurama and Tomoe are undone when Tomoe breaks character and brings up Nanami, the maiden Jiro met, and even threatens violence. Kurama stops his “familiar”, but Jiro imprisons them both in a strong, anti-yokai barrier prison. With these two out of commission, it’s Nanami’s game to lose.

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She doesn’t lose. The plan fails mostly because she and the others weren’t aware of the existence of a yokai under Jiro’s employ (Yatori), or the fact the Sojobo has been petrified as a result of his soul being extracted.

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Nanami, in top heroine goddess form, doesn’t cower in fear before the bombastic Jiro. In fact, when he smacks Botanmaru, she gives him a stern scolding, one he probably hasn’t heard in a long time, if ever, and sorely needed. He blames Botanmaru for being weak, but Nanami points out Jiro hasn’t been running this mountain himself, all alone. Even the strongest have people they rely on.

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Jiro doesn’t know how this litle whelp of a tengu knows about such stuff, because he doesn’t know he’s talking to a human land god. When Nanami brings up Sojobo’s soul extraction, Yatori butts in a shoos Jiro away. In case you were wondering, yes, this guy is up to no good, and is simply using Jiro to secure an army for Akura-oh.

But Yatori is just as clueless about this tengu lad as Jiro, and when he threatens to off him and Botanmaru, the wig and gloves come off and Nanami enters Full Bad-Ass Mode, a mode she remains in for the duration of the episode.

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With Mamoru by her side, she casts a barrier against evil that easily dispatches Yatori. One could say he’s dealt with too easily, but this has never been a show about long, drawn-out physical battles, but rather battles of wits, timing, and ideals. In any case, it’s awesome to see Nanami wield such power so comfortably and confidently, and we know why: the people she loves and cares are counting on her, and she won’t let them down.

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Even in disguise, her words prove just as powerful a weapon against the big dumb mean bear that is Jiro, within whom lies a precocious but insecure boy desperate to earn the Sojobo’s approval.

When he isn’t watching where he’s going he bumps into the three adorable little tengu we met last week, who all expect to be reprimanded severely for getting in his way. But Nanami’s words echo through his head, and suddenly picking on a bunch of little kids seems stupid. Good for him. Better for Nanami!

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Jiro’s sudden crisis of the heart also means his hold on his “encampment” is tawdry at best, and Nanami takes advantage. Ignoring Yatori’s pleas to keep him around since he’s the only one who knows where the Sojobo’s soul is stashed, she decides to simply cancel out all of the barriers in the compound with one big barrier against evil, and find the soul herself.

As she “tears” through the place, she scares the bejesus out of various tengu who’ve never laid eyes on a woman before, and even leaves a gleaming golden trail in her wake. Once her barrier is cast, the whole place starts to sparkle. When Tomoe and Kurama’s prison fades away in the golden light, Tomoe knows exactly what’s up: his Nanami is demonstrating precisely why she’s worth falling for.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 08

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The tables are turned on the human Nanami early this week as for once she is the one being regarded as a rare and strange supernatural creature, a “celestial nymph,” by Jiro. He’s not the gentlest soul to her, either, roughly grabbing her arm and threatening to break it before Mamoru, true to his name manages to spring her.

Scared, trembling, and sporting a sore arm, the sight of the far gentler Tomoe is enough to make Nanami collapse into his bosom ing joyful relief. This is the side of Nanami that makes Tomoe want to protect her with everything he’s got. And I’m sure Nanami would always prefer for Tomoe to be waiting with open arms whenever she gets into such a state.

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After being treated roughly and then gently, Suiro continues to talk to Nanami while facing Tomoe, as if her countenance is too awful to look upon. When she forces the issue, he admits he’s simply not used to interacting with women, especially, as he says, “beautiful maidens.”

After glimpsing his impossibly gorgeous face, Nanami has to wonder if he’s just being nice. Don’t get me wrong, Nanami is super-cute, and I wouldn’t call her plain, but it’s clear her’s is a more normal, casual beauty compared to all these magazine cover bishounen. 

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Suiro, perhaps the most classically feminine of the characters in the room, has always mothered Shinjuro, and now that he’s back it’s as if nothing has changed: he still sees him as a little kid with mussed hair who can be placated with apples and promises “it will all work out.” Only Kurama isn’t a kid, and isn’t buying it. Nothing will work out this time unless he acts.

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When Kurama storms out to cool his head, Suiro asks Nanami and Tomoe not just to leave themselves after giving the peach pills to give to Kurama’s sire, but to take Kurama with them as well. He can tell that Kurama left a lot behind in the mundane world to come to the mountain, and he shouldn’t be expected to abandon the life he’s lived for seventeen years.

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Nanami’s response is simple: she and Tomoe aren’t leaving until Kurama says he wants to go. They both find Kurama surveying Jiro’s heavily-fortified compound, and Kurama comes to the same conclusion Tomoe does: he can’t do this alone. Nanami volunteers to help in anyway they can, because she’s not just someone who runs scared into the arms of others. She’s both vulnerable and strong; scared and brave; all seemingly contradictory traits that perplex Tomoe so.

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Kurama doesn’t even have to ask Nanami, but he does anyway as a courtesy; not an easy thing at all for him to do, considering he prefers to shoulder all the burdens himself. What’s so funny is the cliff they’re on is so windy, Nanami doesn’t quite hear him ask for her help, and Kurama is too bashful to ask again. Thankfully, Tomoe heard.

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Meanwhile, within compound they intend to infiltrate tomorrow, it’s plain to Yatori—and us—that Nanami has had an effect on Jiro. You could say he’s been enchanted; his heart and mind are in disarray. His instincts made him act forcefully to a potential threat in the nymph, yet he cannot deny her presence in his mind has been all but constant ever since their meeting. You can call it puppy love, but no doubt he sees it as a weakness, one he’ll hide from his subordinates at all costs, even as he continues to cull young tengu who aren’t strong enough to pass muster.

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This episode is immediately made better by frikking having Tomoe in it, saying more than one line; although a few of his lines are obviously defensive barbs loosed against the girl he’s fallen for flustering him simply by existing. As fate would have it, they share a bedroom that night.

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Nothing really happens, despite what these images might suggest, but when coming back from the bathroom, Nanami accidentally curls up in Tomoe’s bed, and while initially freaked out, Tomoe is surprised to find himself embracing her, right up until she comes to. It’s all very “romawkward”, as one would expect from two people still on the very fringes of a romantic relationship, and still not comfortable openly talking about it or even acknowledging the mutual attraction exists.

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That morning, we see the plan that will get them into the compound: Kurama will pose as the land god Nanami really is, Tomoe will pose as his familiar instead of Nanami’s, and Nanami will pose as an apprentice tengu, which introduces us to Nanami Tengu Drag, which might be the most adorable thing I’ve seen all Winter.

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