Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 05 – Toothpaste Isn’t Food!

Sakurai can’t even daydream about falling in class without Uzaki getting on his case, and it just happens to be a class about dream interpretation. Uzaki is having so much fun mocking the issues behind Sakurai’s falling dream, she almost falls down the steps herself, but is tiny enough to be plucked out of mid-air and held in the safety Sakurai’s arms. Neither blushes about this unplanned close contact.

We finally see Sakurai spend some time with his male friend Sakaki Itsuhito, who is pained to hear that his pal has been wasting his crucial college days doing nothing of note. That is, until Uzaki arrives, he gets a taste of their dynamic, and he’s fully invested in helping them get together. This draws the ire of Ami, who prefers a hands-off approach and condemns any meddling on Sakaki’s part.

But as the final sequence shows, if they don’t do anything to move things along, Sakurai and Uzaki will become an official couple in, oh, about a thousand years. That’s because in the aftermath of an epic monologue defending the Choco-Mint flavor to the mint-adverse Sakurai, the two both realize they’ve shared indirect kisses from using the same toothpick to eat the candy. This is stuff middle schoolers would get bashful about.

So yeah, like Sakaki, I’m worried this thing will just keep spinning its wheels without intervention. The Uzaki in class and in front of Sakaki was much like the one at the glasses store—mercilessly mocking Sakurai and his flaws, yet still blushing at the indirect kiss realization. Hopefully something will come of their continuing to blush over one another…but I won’t hold my breath!

P.S. Like Uzaki, I am a dedicated Choco-Mintian. Death to the Anti-Mintite Brigade!

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 04 – Curry and Rain

This episode starts with Hana paying Shinichi an unannounced visit to his apartment. It’s Golden Week, and she had a reasonable expectation he’d be home and wouldn’t have anything going on. She gets him to join her on a Doraemon Go! trip outdoors, but his eyes are bothering him from all the gaming, so she takes him shopping for glasses. That’s where they encounter Ami, who is back from her family.

The two proceed to gang up on Shinichi, having him wear increasingly ridiculous glasses and then laughing at him. Considering Shinichi is not an M, he’s not really having fun, and the scene gets a bit uncomfortable, especially when Ami lies about having a serious pair for him, only for them to be over-the-top aviators. Shinichi has had his fill of this, so when Hana finally tries on a pair, he insults her and the two dive into a spirited bickering session.

It’s not a particularly good start for two people who are presumably eventually going to click as a couple, but when the train they’re on gets increasingly crowded, their dynamic morphs from aggressively adversarial to protective, as Shinichi’s relatively large body shields her from the crush of new passengers. Eventually the chests of the two are pressed together, Shinichi’s heart rate increases, and both he and Hana start to blush.

She remarks that they’re in a “wall slam” like situation, without getting into how she feels about that, though she admits there’s not much to be done about it; there’s no space. Rather than reckon with the present situation, Shinichi withdraws within himself, trying to block out all sight and sound, only for the smell of Hana’s hair to become more prominent. He ends up passing out standing up, and gets separated from Hana when the doors close between them.

When he comes to form his mini fugue state at the end of the train line, he sees missed calls from an obviously worried Hana, and feels bad. Back at the cafe, Ami suggests the best way forward is to simply reach out to her. At the college common room Hana is down in the dumps because it’s so gray and dreary and “there are no holidays in June”.

So Shinichi, unbidden, takes the initiative and suggests they hang out together to at least make the free time they have worthwhile, and also to make up for leaving her in the lurch on the train. The day they’re to hang out there’s even more rain, and Hana is soaked on her way to his place.

No matter; she simply showers (after playfully asking if he’d join her), borrows his much larger clothes, and cooks up some tasty curry. They spend the day playing Meowcraft, building a ridiculous structure together. Shinichi’s got his new glasses to cut down on blue light, and in general the atmosphere is so much more pleasant and comfortable than the glasses store debacle.

Aside from a brief vertical pan on a showering Hana there’s minimal fanservice and more importantly, no teasing or bickering. Between the close quarters, the shared clothes and cooking together, there’s a lovely domestic intimacy to their day, and even if it never veers into overt romance there’s definitely ample chemistry and amity we frankly needed to see after Glassesgate.

When Shinichi walks Hana to the station, the rain has stopped, and it feels like they’ve reached a milestone in their relationship. Not only did Shinichi suggest they hang out; not only did they thoroughly enjoy themselves, but he suggests she come by another time, something Hana thought wouldn’t happen so fast. She throws caution to the wind and proposes tomorrow, and Shinichi is fine with it!

Now Shinichi knows what it’s like to hang out with Hana on a rainy day, without Ami or any other bystanders to provoke any sniping or misbehavior. The two end up getting along famously. While Shinichi will probably always value his solitude, it’s clear he no longer sees hanging out with Hana to be a hassle or a chore, and something to which he can actually look forward rather than dread. It’s very promising development!

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 03 – Slow-Roasted for Rich, Deep Flavor

This week we’re introduced to a new voice in this show’s “chorus”, the cafe owner’s daughter Asai Ami, who is also a senior and thus Sakurai’s senpai at college. Like her dad, Ami is an enthusiastic observer of people, but in her case that observation sometimes descends into ogling.

Sakurai’s tall frame and swimmer’s physique highly attractive, and can tell other women who frequent the cafe feel the same. When she meets Uzaki-chan and gets a taste of her dynamic with Sakurai, her desire to observe more of their hijinx quickly outweighs her carnal interest in his muscles.

After a frankly ridiculous instance of Sakurai spilling an entire pitcher of ice water on himself and Uzaki, he catches a bad cold and can barely move. Thankfully the cafe owner gives Uzaki his address, and she comes by to assess the situation. With no medicine or food in the house, Uzaki is eager to roll up her sleeves and show she can nurse as well as she can tease.

Between straightening out his kitchen and preparing some tasty rice porridge, wiping down his sweat, and sticking around after giving him medicine until he falls asleep, Uzaki proves quite capable of taking care of him in a pinch. As such, Sakurai’s opinion of her improves greatly…even if her frustration with a video game keeps him awake a bit.

To celebrate his quick recovery (not to mention the passing of an important step in their relationship), the cafe owner and Ami take Sakurai and Uzaki out for Korean BBQ, where Uzaki again makes sure he as many cuts of grilled meat as he can handle. While Uzaki is washing up, Sakurai assures his boss and Ami that “it’s not like that” between him and Uzaki; he values his solo lifestyle and doesn’t want to cause trouble for Uzaki vis-a-vis rumors.

The owner and Ami can communicate telepathically, so they agree that rather than meddling they should be patient and let things play out. It’s like Ami’s pops says, it’s like coffee: letting the beans slowly roast than painstakingly brewing them for the best flavor.

The next day at college, Uzaki tries to hypnotize Sakurai with a 5-yen coin to call her by her first name, like he calls his co-worker Ami by hers. She feels that considering how long they’ve known each other (regardless of how much contact they had earlier on) the least he could do is not address her with “heys” and “look heres”.

It’s one of the first times Uzaki mellows from her usual bubbly hyperactive manner, and Sakurai responds seriously, by getting down on a knee and apologizing sincerely. That said, he’s not usually comfortable calling girls by their first name.

As for not gathering a crowd hypnosis antics, he is unsuccessful, as the consensus of observers is that they’re a couple of “love dummies”. The fact he can so easily hypnotize her means she trusts him a great deal, and he no doubt trusts her more after she took care of him when he was sick. With that mutual trust established, the careful slow-roasting of their relationship can proceed.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 02 – Cafe Jazz

Sakurai seeks both employment and refuge at a serene cafe run by an old man for the last ten years plus. His business policy is to have a calm atmosphere for his customers, and Sakurai has proven adept at enacting that policy in his fine barista work.

That is, until a hungry Uzaki shows up wanting to tease Sakurai. Their ensuing bickering completely changes the carefully-cultivated atmosphere, but the owner doesn’t care; these two are surprisingly fun to watch. After two episodes, I tend to agree….tentatively.

Turns out Sakurai is also a big fan of cats and dogs, but has limited experience due to growing up and living without pets. When a friendly alley cat runs off, Uzaki tries to chase it but gets very awkwardly caught in a hedge. Her underwear is exposed and if she’s pulled out to fast her shirt will flip off.

This results in some very adult-sounding double entendres (“Are you pulling out Senpai? Hurry!” “Almost…there…just behave, will you?”) which two passing women overhear and obviously get the wrong idea and flee screaming. It seems at least once per week Sakurai and Uzaki will end up in one of these … entanglements.

Sakurai seems neither ready or interested in an intimate relationship with someone, but whether it’s the college dining hall or the cafe, Uzaki can’t leave him be, though for now it seems she’s strictly interested in friendship. She asks him to help her with a report, and when his boss says it’s fine, he acquieses to her request.

During this time Uzaki asks if she can come to his place, stating how she’ll cook meals and its proximity to campus. Sakurai’s mind can’t help but take such proposals to imply she wishes to co-habitate, but she’s actually interesting in coming by to play video games.

Both seem to be in a state of arrested development, with Sakurai so inexperienced with women he blushes at the very thought of one in his living space, to Uzaki with her impish energy and innocent motives.

Despite some fanservice, this ep prompted me look past her appearance (which caused the seasoned cafe owner to mistake her for an elementary student) and see what makes these two young people more alike than they’d care to admit—which is what makes them so fun to watch.

P.S. Looks like both Uzaki and Sakurai have friends! But still just one each, and they don’t have much to do…yet.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 22 – Enter Sandcard

It’s probably for the best that CCS decided to take a break from Meiling and Syaoran to return the focus to the impressive Kinomoto family. When Touya and Sakura’s dad has to work long nights on a tight deadline for a manuscript, the siblings put aside their petty squabbling and do all of their dad’s share of chores, without him having to even ask! If that doesn’t show you he raised some good kids, I don’t know what does.

Sakura wants to extend her helping hand, so she visits her dad at university with Tomoyo, and his lab assistants let her peek in on one of his inspiring and sought-after history lectures. It’s great to see Sakura beam with pride over her father’s work, and wants to do everything she can to make his life easier. Unfortunately, there’s a Sleep Clow Card determined to render her dad and his team unconscious!

Sleep is another one of those mischievous “catch me if you can” cards that wreaks as much havoc as possible before being caught—it even manages to knock Kero-chan out! But thanks to a combination of Jump and Windy, Sakura is able to dodge the magic sleeping dust and disorient the card enough to seal it. However, in the process Sakura causes a lot of damage in her father’s office—and breaks his laptop!

Sakura is beside herself with guilt, but by now we know her father would much rather miss a deadline than watch his only daughter cry, so he forgives her on the spot and urges her not to worry about it. Of course, since Sakura is such a good girl, she can’t help but lose sleep over the accident.

Her dad finds a way to cheer Sakura up the next day: by enlisting her and Touya as his final night assistants. By the time morning comes, Sakura has nodded off but the manuscript is complete. He even has time to make Sakura a lunch with a note urging her to do her best, mirroring the lunch and note she made for him. What a beautiful, love-filled episode!

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 01 (First Impressions) – Super Huge Fun

This wasn’t originally on my animedar, but the “[Name] Wants to [Action]!” formula has generally been a good source of slice-of-life comedy entertainment, and in the case of  Master Teaser Takagi-san, occasional gems.

Well peeps, I can say without reservation that Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! was well worth a look, delivering an irresistible blend of rom-com slice-of-lifeness, lightly dusted with ecchi on account of the titular Uzaki Kana having a very large bust despite being under five feet tall.

Sakurai Shinichi is a second-year college student and stubborn loner. When Uzaki, his old high school kohai, greets him, he remembers her name…then an entire dang year passes without the two of them interacting again. That’s one hell of a cold open!

Now a second-year herself, Uzaki is determined to establish a relationship with the now third-year Sakurai, and when their afternoons align she doesn’t take no for an answer. Their day together begins with a trip to the movie theater, where Uzaki mocks him for going to movies solo.

When he sees the genuine enthusiasm in her face and offers to pay for her ticket with his points, she then mocks him for having collected so many points by going to see so many movies alone. Throughout their interactions, which consist of her yelling a lot and him getting angry, they are mistaken for being boyfriend and girlfriend many times.

Aside from close-ups and the “SUGOI DEKAI” (“Super Huge”) label across her chest, Uzaki’s chest is never explicitly mentioned in dialogue, making it a strict ecchi sight gag. However, when she’s in a massage chair, it feels so good on her overburdened shoulders she can’t help but let out a series of thoroughly indecent sounds. She also puts on an inadvertently amorous show when she stands on a vibrating workout platform.

When she tries out the VR, Sakurai has a gas watching her frenzied, fearful reactions…until she absolutely obliterates him with a blow to the face; he was standing too close to her. The tables are turned when he tries out the VR in an underwater scenario, and one of his grasping hands mimicking swimming accidentally grabs and squeezes one of her boobs, marveling at the tech that apparently replicates feeling.

After a batting cage session that consists of Uzaki heartily and mercilessly laughing at Sakurai’s feeble attempts to make contact and Uzaki injuring her back out by swinging to hard, the two have dinner, where Sakurai learns that any unattended food he orders will be instantly hoovered up by the voracious Uzaki (clearly we know where all that food goes).

Sadly, we don’t get to see the two part ways or say good night, but the next morning Uzaki suggests they go right back to the cages so he can give her some pointers. What for Sakurai had been extraordinary infrequent situation of actually hanging out with someone, she’s determined to make a regular occurrence. Not that she wants Sakurai to get used to her—she’s  always going to keep him on his terms and be on his nerves.

But as he said earlier in their first afternoon of hanging out, “she has her moments,” and I have no doubt he’ll steadily warm to her sunny charm and brazen boisterousness, even as he ponders how Uzaki changed so much from that taciturn high school student by the pool.

Uzaki-chan is a zany superstar, thanks to adorable character design and the immensely talented comic voice of Oozora Naomi (who also voice Chio in Chio’s School Road). Her character strikes the right balance of abrasive and endearing, while Sakurai walks the line between annoyed and game. This show is a definite keeper!

P.S. There’s a stalker cat with a very creepy face. Huh!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 11 – Driving With the Parking Brake On

Haru was calling because her house was broken into, but she’s fine and nothing was taken. Still, she asks Rikuo if he’s really the kind of man who would leave a young woman in her state all alone and go home. Rikuo isn’t that kind of man, so he sleeps on the floor, ignoring her offer to stay in her room.

Nothing happens in the night, but Haru makes Rikuo a modest but hearty breakfast as thanks, blissfully unaware his current status with Shinako because Rikuo never comes around to telling her. Even if the timing stinks, he’ll never get a better opportunity to let her down relatively easy.

Rikuo and Shinako are a picture of domestic bliss as he accompanies her grocery shopping and she cooks at both their places. Rikuo calls her cooking “leagues apart” (from Haru’s), though Shinako wonders if he’s making fun of her, since to her it’s just self-taught cooking; nothing special. But it is special to him, just as cooking for him is special to her.

Still, when Rou calls on her phone, she tells Rou there’s no one else there. Like Rikuo with Haru, the timing for telling Rou about them sucks, because she doesn’t want the impact of knowing to affect his college entrance exams. But like Rikuo, she’ll never have a better opportunity to tell Rou, despite logic suggesting she keep them a secret for a little while longer.

But I don’t think mere fear of hurting Haru and Rou is what drives their inability to make their new relationship public. That they’re the only two who know about each other means it’s not yet official, or even 100% real yet. While they’ve shown tremendous courage in taking the first steps toward each other, it’s as if they still have the parking brake on, slowing their progress and its legitimization to an awkward crawl.

It’s why Shinako still can’t let Rikuo kiss her when he draws in. He doesn’t mind, but in drawing in he’s already established that he’s ready for a kiss; that he sought to release that E-brake and drive a little further down the road, while Shinako’s brake is still on. It doesn’t, nor should it, irritate Rikuo, who is just happy to be with her, but he automatically starts to think of what he still needs to do to get her to release that brake.

Whatever issues the two are having in transitioning into a more romantic relationship, the fact remains they’ve both procrastinated too long in letting the other man and woman in their lives know what’s up. Because Rikuo didn’t tell Haru that morning to spare her feelings, Haru ends up learning about the two when she stops by Rikuo’s with food from the cafe as thanks for him spending the night at her place.

The looks on Haru’s face as she repeatedly tries and fails to cover her true feelings with a brave smile over and over makes for the most heartbreaking sequences of the show so far. Any notion of sparing her feelings is thrown out the window. Haru knew this moment would come, but she didn’t truly know how it would feel until it did. Rikuo didn’t make things any easier for her, so he and Shinako also feel shitty.

Rou ends up passing his entrance exams, and is officially heading for college, which means it’s time to tell him lest he face the same moment of embarrassment and despair as poor Haru (not that I particularly care about Rou, mind you!) But when Rou tells Shinako he’ll be moving closer to her place and she gently bristles at him presuming she’ll keep cooking for him, Rou’s reaction is so callow and impudent, she dare not say more to upset him further. Yikes! Later, Shinako tells Rikuo that she’ll surely, definitely tell Rou about them soon, when the time is right. MmHmm.

Then she has drinks with her still-single friend, who learns that Shinako may be going with her guy, but that nothing has happened in that department for three months. THREE. MONTHS. There’s taking it slow, and there’s frikkin’ pitch drop experiments. Her friend is understanding, but wisely wonders if Shinako will ever feel comfortable doing “anything” with Rikuo.

Some time passes, and Rikuo learns from Kyouko that Haru has quit her job at the cafe. That night, Rikuo takes Shinako out to dinner as thanks for all his cooking (per his boss’ suggestion), and invites her to the aquarium. Unfortunately, Shinako already agreed to help Rou move, and once again assures Rikuo she’ll tell Rou about them.

When he walks Shinako home, she ask him if he wants to “stop by”, and he politely declines, he detects relief in her voice. He’s not feeling restless or anything, but she should let him know if there’s any way he can better meet her expectations. Shinako tells him he’s fine the way he is, and she won’t expect more or as him to make any promises. As long as he stays by her side and be who he’s always been, it’s all gravy.

Then Rou shows up, sees Shinako clutching Rikuo’s shirt, is outraged, and asks what the hell is going on between them. There was never going to be a good time to tell Rou or Haru, but the absolute worst time could have been avoided in both cases. Another unforced error for the fledgling couple. I’m thoroughly rooting for them at this point, but they have got to do better.

Elfen Lied – 05 – Good People are Hard to Come By

Kurama looks out at the ocean, perhaps grieving the loss of Nana, while Kouta and Yuka wake up to find Mayu has run away. The episode delves into her past, and not surprisingly for this show, it’s horrific. Habitually sexually abused by her stepdad and shunned by her mother, one night she refuses to undress, and runs.

She doesn’t stop until she reaches the ocean, and seems poised to walk in and not come back. She’s stopped only by the dog Wanta, whom she assumes was discarded like her. Back in the present, Wanta (AKA James) is claimed by his owner, leaving Mayu alone again. She hides among crates in the cold, dark night, utterly miserable.

Some cops find her, but thankfully so do Yuka and Kouta, who remembered she hung around the beach a lot. They bring her back to the house, but she’s not sure why, because no one in her life has ever given a damn about her except to use her. It never occurred to her that good people existed.

While his penchant for “collecting girls” continues to irk Yuka, she doesn’t protest when he decides to let Mayu stay with them indefinitely. Mayu’s mother all too easily signs away guardianship to him. Wanta comes back to her (his old owner was not a good person, it seems) and she returns to school with a smile on her face, now in a much better place.

Kouta and Yuka return to college classes too, but inexplicably take Nyu with them. I understand how they might be worried about her wandering off again, but it just seems like a really, really bad idea considering how much they don’t know about her situation.

Sure enough, the professor of their new class is Dr. Kakuzawa, son of the head of the research facility where Lucy was being held. He takes Kouta and Yuka aside, warns them of the laws they’re breaking by having the girl in their custody, and makes Kouta agree to leave Nyu with with him.

Fearing the consequences and cowed by an authority figure, Kouta ignores Nyu crying out his name (she’s learning more words than just “nyu”), and later can’t help but shed tears over their separation. Yuka reproaches him for crying (“You’re a man!”) but then starts crying herself.

They get home and tell Mayu, who plants the seed in Kouta’s head that maybe the professor wasn’t telling the truth when he said Nyu’s family was worried and wanted her back. Gee, ya THINK?

Sure enough, Kakuzawa’s intentions with Nyu are anything but honorable. He strips her down, ties her up, and injects her with drugs. But while he’s still undressing in preparation to rape her, Nyu wakes up as Lucy, and plainly asks him who he is and what he wants.

Kakuzawa tries to give her his spiel about replacing the human race with superior Dicloniï, revealing his own sorry horns. Lucy plainly ain’t buyin’ it, and helpfully relieves him of his head, causing a fountain of blood and saying she doesn’t need someone like him.

Truer words have never been spoken. Like Mayu, she needs good people like Kouta and Yuka, particularly when she reverts to Nyu. It’s just a shame those good people aren’t the brightest…

Chihayafuru 3 – 19 – Hollow Man

I don’t like Master Suo.

I don’t like his creepily soft voice, or his obsession with sweets, or the way he macks on Chihaya, or the way he plays karuta, or the way he’s clogging up a throne I’d rather see Arata in sooner rather than later. The show hasn’t gone out of its way to make him a likable character, as it has so many others whose backstories we only get at a crucial point in a match, but at least this week it makes the attempt.

Suo has always seen himself as “hollow,” taken away from deadbeat parents to live in the main family’s house full of relations young and old. One of his aunts took him under her wing, insisting that he one day “make something of himself.” We learn that he has the same affliction she has that narrows the field of vision and may one day blind him.

He doesn’t learn of this prognosis until he’s already attempted several different paths and, not feeling passion for any of them, moved on to another. It’s a pretty lady at college who first attracts him to karuta, and like everything else he picks it up quickly.

That young woman gets a boyfriend who’s not him, but he still becomes so good at karuta he scares opponents away, leading to the adoption of a playing style in which he intentionally narrows his margin of victory and forces opponents to fault. He feeds on the passion of others because he has none himself.

Sympathy for Suo can be found for those looking hard enough, in his unenviable parentage, his loyalty and devotion to his aunt and her wish for him to make something of himself, and the two ticking clocks in his eye sockets. Backed into a corner with no more room for slacking off, Suo then feeds off Dr. Harada’s passion in order to turn an eight-card deficit into a one-card advantage.

Dr. Harada has passion to spare, but after three games and change his knee is starting to howl, as he knew it would, hurting his focus. That knee makes him a little less surer of his form and speed, and a refocused Suo capitalizes. Kitano, well aware of Harada’s discomfort, looks past their decades of fierce rivalry, sees how close one of them is to beating him to the throne, and tosses his friend a cushion to ease the agony.

Over on the women’s side, it’s becoming clear to Shinobu that the cards have become fickle, and that some of them like Inokuma too. Shinobu makes it a point not to get into a luck-of-the-draw scenario, no longer sure the remaining cards will side with her.

In the end, Inokuma double-faults at the worst possible time, while Shinobu uses her left hand to reach confidently across the field. Inokuma is devastated and tearful by her loss, but Queen Wakamiya shows her kind side by asking Inokuma to count the cards, assuring her they still like her despite the loss.

That result gets Arata out of his sickbed and onto the subway, hoping to catch the end of the Master tournament in person. However, he probably should have stayed put, as there’s no guarantee he’ll get there in time, and the internet signal on his tablet cuts out every time his train goes into a tunnel (which, in tunnel-filled Japan, is often).

In between service interruptions, he manages to hear the word “luck”—Harada and Suo are in the luck-of-the-draw Shinobu managed to avoid. While I’m still not a big fan of Suo, and will be disappointed if after coming so close Dr. Harada comes up short, I at least understand the four-time Master a little better now. I just hope his musings this episode don’t set him up to not only win, but to decide not to retire.

After all, he’s still Master Suo…whom I dislike.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 01 – Through the Loo(Koyomi)ng Glass

The long-awaited “epilogue” to Shinbou Akiyuki’s venerable Monogatari Series premiered in theaters last Fall. The movie can be cleanly split into six episodes. Here’s the RABUJOI review of the first, with more to come, on the 10-year anniversary of Bakemonogatari’s first episode. You can view a Big Board of the complete Monogatari anime saga in the order of when events occur here.—R.S.

It’s March 16, 2007 – just two days after the events of Owarimonogatari, and Araragi Koyomi has graduated from high school and has not yet been admitted to his college of choice. It’s a kind of purgatory he’s never experienced. From grade to middle to high school, he’d always known for sure what came next, whether he was a vampire or not. Now it’s all up in the air.

It’s not surprising for someone with such a murky view of the future to turn his gaze inward, thus undertaking a new adventure (or oddity): a mirror universe. Going into this movie (which I’ll be reviewing in six parts) I had no idea what to expect from these “bonus levels” or “lost levels,” but as a self-avowed Trekkie, exploring alternate realities is always a ton of fun and I’m glad to see Monogatari employ the device.

Aside from the familiar setting of his house being literally reversed, Koyomi starts to notice everyone’s a bit…alternate: Karen is short instead of tall; Tsukihi’s yukata is reversed; Yotsugi is extremely expressive. They’re all fun reflections the significance of which rely not only on the audience having pored over the previous ninety-seven episodes of Monogatari, but also having thoroughly enjoyed said poring, as I am on record as having done.

The most entertaining of alternate characters to date has to be Hachikuji Mayoi, the recently-installed town god whom Araragi visits to get some answers when Shinobu won’t respond to his summons. At first Mayoi doesn’t show when he presents an offering of aluminum 1-yen coins, two claps, and a prayer. But that’s because she’s stalking him.

Unlike the 10-year-old Mayoi who has been the victim of numerous Perverted Araragi Attacks™, Mirror Mayoi is 21; Koyomi’s senpai and onee-chan, and the hunter, not the hunted. Turnabout is certainly fair play, as Koyomi is the unconsenting recipient of wholly inappropriate verbal and physical manhandling. After her ambush, she helps him determine that the mirror world is a moment from his world that branched off, with some elements that have reversed and others that haven’t.

Drawing from the utilization of the temple’s torii as a time-portal back to 1995, Mayoi suggests that Koyomi attempt to return to his world by the same means. That means employing the unique talents of one former Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade to open the gate for him, even though her being a vampire means she has no counterpart in the mirror universe.

He just needs a way to convey that idea to Shinobu, who may be back in her prime if they’re truly separated. He suddenly recalls the cypress bath in Kanbaru’s house as a potential means to contact her. As the start to a new mystery box out of which Koyomi must think and network his way, Zoku is a welcome new addition to the mythos. Voice actors, art, design, and particularly Haneoka Kei’s pulsing soundtrack are all in top form. I can’t wait to see where this bonus stage goes.

Grand Blue – 07 – Just Ask Her Out Directly and Get Rejected, Losers!

Unlike Chio-chan, which mixes its scenarios up pretty well and always keeps you guessing what will befall its characters from week to week, Grand Blue often follows a familiar formula.

In this formula, Iori and Kouhei yell at each other a lot with increasingly contorted faces, while Iori’s college classmates express their disapproval of the very idea of Chisa dating/living with Iori. They’re his friends…until evidence he’s close to Chisa emerges, and then they want to literally kill him.

This act is wearing a bit thin, to be honest, and the reason is in the title of this post: these assholes need to stop blaming Iori for their romantic troubles! If they like Chisa (which is dubious, as none of them actually even know her; they just think she’s cute, which she is), they should ask her out.

If they all get rejected (which they most certainly will be, which lets face it is why they won’t ask), well then, tough noogies! But they’d get closure on the Chisa matter. Instead, they take all their frustrations out on Iori, and we have to watch it. It’s not pleasant, nor is it that funny! Meanwhile, Chisa is pushed off to the side, barely involved aside from the odd glare or blush.

The show flips the script by giving us a doubles tennis competition with the Tinkerbell tennis club, whose blue-haired captain wants revenge for the pageant fiasco. He’s also not interested in playing fair, as he spikes all the booze of Peekaboo’s spectators, as well as the hard-hitting Ryuu and Shinji, with what seems to be Everclear.

In the midst of the matches, we learn that both Chisa and Iori are extremely competent at tennis and would even make fine members of Tinkerbell, if only its captain and other members weren’t such arrogant pricks. I also lked how Chisa punished Iori for his ill-conceived cheers by taking his sweats and wearing them herself.

In any case, Peekaboo manages to pull an upset, netting them enough funds to take a diving trip to Okinawa. Less pathetic, jealous college buddies, more fun diving trips, please! Fulfill the promise of that painfully upbeat opening!

Grand Blue – 06 – Diving Cures All Ills

Iori remains on bad terms with Chisa, which ends up hurting all the other lads in his German class who were depending on him getting to see her notes. As a result the lads must cheat in other ways, all of which are either discovered by the teacher or ineffective.

While I’m not opposed to episodes made up of isolated segments (see Tsuugakuro, Chio-chan no) I’d prefer if Grand Blue didn’t stray so far from its core themes. This bit felt more like high school than college. Thankfully, we get back on track when Aina is officially initiated into Peek-a-Boo.

Between the binge drinking, the gratuitous nudity, Chisa’s perceived sadism towards Iori, and Nanaka’s perceived fixation on Chisa, Aina quickly learns that no one in the club is remotely normal (including herself; one doesn’t have the nickname “Cakey” bestowed upon her otherwise).

In this regard, the cast is a lot like that of Working!!; everyone has their quirks that make them unique and hopefully, compelling to watch as those quirks bounce off of each other.

Still, the women, particularly Chisa, are pleased and excited that Aina joined because she found diving interesting. It’s here where Iori and Kohei act as a kind of audience surrogate by stating it’s not like they never go diving, but it sure doesn’t seem like they’ve done it in a while…which is very true! It’s been less Grand Blue and more Gorge Booze…

Speaking of, when the party runs out of alcohol, Aina and Chisa volunteer to go out to buy more, and as the saying goes, when the cat’s away, the mice will play.

Despite Aina’s insistence everyone remains clothed and civil for her welcome party, old habits die hard and the lads can’t help themselves from devolving into debauchery in Chisa and Aina’s brief absence.

As for substituting a big log for Pocky in a game between Iori and Kohei, it’s a shade too credulity-stretchingly absurd, even for this show.

While it doesn’t really matter whether Iori and Kohei learn perfect German, it is imperative they memorize all the underwater hand signals, as it could end up saving their life or that of their comrades. So it’s disconcerting to see they don’t know the hand signals any more than they know “rheumatoid arthritis” in German (btw it’s the same, except for an “e” added to make “rheumatoide”).

They end up learning them when a different kind of threat emerges during the party: Nanaka learns her beloved Chisa is dating Iori. This makes Iori fear for his life, and he uses hand signals to alert Kohei and the others. However, Nanaka isn’t certain whether they’re actually dating or whether it simply looks like they are.

So the next day, when the club finally, finally has an actual diving session, she pairs up Iori and Chisa. At first Iori thinks Chisa is angry at him as usual, but she’s really only serious about diving, and not just the safety side, but the fun and wonder of it as well.

Before he knows it Iori is swept up in Chisa’s enthusiasm for the world under the sea, and when he tells her how much fun he had down there, she can’t help but smile. I will always prefer this joyful Chisa to the scornful one dishing out verbal or physical punishment on Iori for acting the goat (however in the right she may be).

Sadly Grand Blue will apparently never let these two remain in a state of detente for long, preferring to built them up and then tear them down for a cheap laugh. As such, Iori ruins it by commenting on the fineness of Chisa’s ass, leading her to blow her top at him. Why can’t we have nice things?

Grand Blue – 05 – Beauty is Only Skin Deep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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