Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 07 – More Aharen Than Aharen

Aharen may be tiny, but she needs a lot of food to keep going, so when she forgets to bring the lunch she made to school, it’s a major problem. Aharen decides to brave the chaotic school store, but even when Raidou puts her on his shoulders and powers through, her voice is too quiet to be heard. Ultimately the problem is solved when her dog Nui delivers her lunch. What a good boy!

After lunch, Raidou and Aharen play Go Fish with Ishikawa and Satou, their official second and third friends at school after Ooshino. Despite dealing the cards an possessing a multi-stage strategy for victory, Aharen runs roughshod over those plans, beating him twice on account of both luck and his misinterpretation of her expressions.

When it’s time to go to a different room for science class, Raidou notes how Aharen doesn’t move after waking up, chalking it up to the rebellious teenage urge to cut class. Turns out she was asleep in the same position so long she can’t move. Raidou resolves to carry her on his back—for the rest of their days, if necessary—but she soon regains the ability to move. Her issue is she stayed up late thinking of what side dishes she should make for Raidou’s lunch. What a keeper!

Turns out Futaba believes the way to her Akkun’s heart is through his stomach, so she challenges Futaba to a lunch duel. Aharen dusts her easily, but is magnanimous in victory, giving Futaba a cooking lesson in the home ec classroom. When Futaba returns the next day cursing Aharen for “poisoning” her lunch, Raidou points out the need to make a fresh lunch, otherwise it spoils.

The last and most hilarious skit involves an art project. After attempting to draw a landscape and then Aharen (who gets self-conscious about being observed), he settles on a graphite self-portrait. Aharen, on the other hand, has a much more ambitious plan: a full-size doll of herself.

When Raidou first spots it, he assumes she’s stopped breathing and administers CPR. Then Aharen insists on taking her home, where he positions her right beside his bed, where he’s already got the crane game dolls surrounding his head, makes for a most unsettling sleeping setup. How wonderfully bizarre!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 06 – Countdown to Farewell

If it hits you you die

The first segment of the episode makes it clear this will be an episode about what kind of future Miyuki and Kaguya want, and how to get there. While Kaguya’s parents do not attend her parent-teacher conference, she has the good fortune of relying on both Miyuki’s dad (who already considers her a daughter) and Ai’s mom (whom Ai clearly worships) as “honorary parents”.

Not only is Ai a mama’s girl, but shares mom’s twisted personality. But things get more serious as the sun drops during the actual conference. Kaguya doesn’t really have anything to say about what she wants for the future; she’s probably just going to do what her parents—her real, absent parents—tell her to do. That means advancing to the university to which Shuchiin High is affiliated.

Miyuki, however has different goals. He’s determined that his future involves moving on from Shuchiin and going to college five thousand miles away at Stanford. He seems resigned to the fact this means No More Kaguya, so he declares to us, the audience, that all Kaguya has to do to “win” their long and harrowing battle is to not confess to him by the cultural festival.

At that point, he vows to confess to her, so they can at least date for the few high school days they have left before parting, possibly forever. But if the gauntlet has been thrown only in his head—where no one but the audience sees it—has it truly been thrown?

Conducive to Confession

Miyuki knows he has his work cut out for him to compel Kaguya into a confession before the culture fest; despite his best efforts he’s been frustrated by failure just as she has for lo these many years. At this desperate time, he decides asking Kaguya out isn’t tantamount to a love confession…so he asks her to join him to scout another school’s festival.

The only problem is, Kaguya doesn’t realize he’s asked her out until she’s already casually declined. Because Ai isn’t Doraemon and cannot manipulate the space-time continuum, she suggests that a distraught Kaguya summon the same courage Miyuki did and ask him out.

And she does! Kaguya employs her calming ritual, then tells Miyuki she’s changed her mind. Unfortunately, she says more words that muddy the waters, causing Miyuki to question whether she means for him to go alone. Having already expended all their courage and arrived at a stalemate, they rely on the other council members to pop in and give them the boost they need to make that one tiny final step towards arranging a date together.

Alas, Yuu, Miko and Chika only make matters worse; Yuu by laughing at the fact he witnessed a guy asking a girl to the culture fest in the hall; Yuu for bringing her disciplinary sensibility to the same event, and finally Chika saying Kaguya definitely shouldn’t go because she’ll get hit on too much. Kaguya seemingly breaks through the fog by suggesting a male accompany her, but that somehow turns into Yuu going with Miyuki. The boys have fun, but Miyuki and Kaguya both definitely lose, and not for want of trying!

Tofu EgO DEATH

While observing Chika transferring a guitar song from one musical scale to another, Miyuki considers every high schooler’s dream of rocking out on stage, something Chika immediately shoots down on account of her considerable experience with Miyuki’s artistic pursuits, and begs him to look at himself more objectively.

Miyuki takes Chika’s advice by starting from a place of wanting to know what women think about him, starting with Miko. Unfortunately, it’s all staged and phrased like a confession to her, which she’s actually flattered by until he pulls an identical act on Chika, who clears things up with Iino.

Thus Miyuki endures an onslaught of shit-talking, as Miko admits that looks-wise he’s not her type, and that she’d prefer the kind of ideal prince of a man that may not even exist. Chika admits that the president actually is more or less her type as someone who is always rising to the challenge in a “single-minded, unbecoming way.”

But since she’s just realizing this and also knows of all of Miyuki’s glaring flaws, she takes said realization as a major blow to her ego, which of course continues to eat away at Miyuki’s. Due to Chika’s penchant for turning discussions into “strange events”, the office is filled with a fog of glumness as Miyuki concludes he’s simply a worthless person no one would consider confessing to.

That is, until his soul mate enters the room, is brought up to speed about the legal insulting session, and asked what she’d change about Miyuki. As we know from her little heart incident at the hospital last season, we know Kaguya already considers the president “an ideal human being”. So her answer—Miyuki is fine the way he is. No notes!—comes as no surprise.

His confidence, recently sloughed away like Mars’ atmosphere by the unintentional roast with Chika and Miko, is instantly, fully restored. Such is the power of the one you love saying exactly what needed to hear, when you needed to hear it. Someone who doesn’t overlook your flaws, but cherishes them along with your merits.

Frankly, if Miyuki was being mature about this, the cultural festival is too late; he should simply confess to her now and get it over with. I’m sure he won’t, but while his Stanford declaration has seemingly placed a ticking clock on their relationship, one can’t rule out that she will confess to him at some point, or may even follow him to Stanford.

The important thing is that at the halfway point of what may well be Love is War’s final season, they’re not out of options yet.

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 06 – Raidolympic Games

This week’s grab bag of athletic segments follow a consistent pattern: Raidou and Aharen try to participate in a certain activity, Raidou initially believes Aharen is either good or sucks at said activity, Aharen and Raidou gradually get better and have a tough match, and Raidou overestimates how good they are and they both get beaten by stiffer competition.

Despite being huge and relatively fit (except for that one segment where he was tubby) Raidou isn’t that great at…much of anything. In that regard, Aharen makes for a perfect opponent for him, as she’s not that great at anyting either but when they play together, two things happen: they get a little better, and they both have fun.

After Ooshiro teaches the two how to swim, Raidou and Aharen have a half-lap race that Aharen wins by staying underwater the whole time and holding her breath. They actually play to a draw in table tennis and bowling, the former match being cut short by the bell and the latter due to a comeback from Raidou after he starts throwing underhand while Aharen’s beginner’s luck wears off.

Their fourth contest is in basketball, where usually the taller or bigger player prevails, but Aharen channels Muggsy Bogues, who played in the NBA despite being only 5’3″ (160cm) tall. Aharen, like Bogues, darts around or under the towering opponent, using her quickness to get past him. She only loses when she misses her last bucket.

After watching a violent movie together (which technically counts as a completely off-camera date?!) the two try their hand at a two-player zombie-themed first-person shooter. While Raidou initially envisions himself to Leon to Aharen’s Mathilda in The Professional (one of my favorite films), he quickly dies, and Aharen shows that her lack of judging distance means she can headshot every enemy with ease, even while dual-wielding.

When Aharen goes to the bathroom at the arcade, Raidou quickly encounters her again by the crane game, but there’s something off about her; she’s way louder and more expressive than his Aharen. Assuming (naturally) that she’s suffering a sudden bout of amnesia, he simply shows her a good time…before the real Aharen shows up and reveals that the other Aharen is actually her little brother Ren, who likes to dress in her clothes.

The final segment before credits is the shortest but sweetest, as Raidou sneezes and comments that it’s gotten cold. Aharen “runs hot” so she hugs him to warm him up. When he asks her to let go, she withdraws behind a utility pole, which is suddenly too far away. While there’s no movement on their status as a dating high school couple, they both seem happy where things are at, so it’s all good.

In the post-credits segment Ren tries on more of Aharen’s clothes, and she asks him why. His answer—because they’re cute and he loves them—is good enough for her, and when he asks if he shouldn’t, she simply gives him a hug and says it’s fine.

Aharen-oneesan unconditionally supporting her cross-dressing brother might be one of her sweetest, most heartwarming moments yet. If anyone has a problem with him, they’ll have to deal with her…and her hulking kinda-sorta boyfriend!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 05 – Win-Win

When Aharen tells Raidou about a Pokemon Go-style mobile game that was launched seven years ago like it’s a new trend, he dusts off his maxed-out Yankee Godzilla character, believing her tiny, harmless-looking Shirorin will be no match against him. He’s eager to score a win against Aharen, but instead he gets stomped. It’s the classic Cactuar Conundrum: tiny and cute doesn’t automatically spell weak.

We’ve seen how strong Aharen is in the crane game department, so when Futaba spends almost all her pocket change in vain trying to win a Yankee Godzilla doll, Aharen proceeds to win nine of them. I don’t think she’s trying to show up a kid; merely show her how it’s done. She even leaves a gimme right near the out spout for Futaba to win with her last 100-yen coin.

The next segment is one of those that crops up often in a 4-panel comic: where one character changes dramatically—in this case Raidou becoming overweight overnight. When it dawns on Aharen it could be her fault for feeding him so much of her massive lunches, she reads up on dieting, hoping to help him.

But when Raidou spots her with the diet book, he assumes she’s trying to diet, something he doesn’t think is necessary, so he decides to lead by example and show her that exercise, not dieting, is the key to success. He loses all the weight he gained, only to learn Aharen never had any intention of dieting…but will surely consider leaner lunches in future!

The re-slimmed Raidou is in trouble; if he fails the midterms he’ll have to take supplementary classes. To avoid this, he proposes that he and Aharen study together, assuming from her serene demeanor that she’s already fully prepared to do well in the exams.

The two try a number of different venues for their studying, but be it the library, a restaurant, or the park, they find themselves distracted by something and can’t study. Ultimately, the classroom turns out to be the ideal spot for studying, with their desks pushed together as usual.

When Aharen, Raidou, and two classmates have after-school cleaning duty, Raidou marvels at how seriously Aharen takes this. She’s so professional in her cleaning, his vivid imagination starts to wonder if she’s also a cleaner, i.e. an assassin. She certainly seems to have a cool head for it…

After the other two kids leave, Aharen tries to move a dusted bookshelf back where it belongs, only to lose her balance and almost have it fall on her. Raidou exhibits catlike reflexes by rushing to Aharen’s rescue. Later, they continue studying, and Raidou thanks her for helping him with studying. Aharen’s response is so quiet even his trained ears can’t hear…

…So she draws closer to him and gathers him into a long, warm, affectionate hug. She expresses her happiness at being able to finally help Raidou, after all this time she’s caused trouble and relied upon him. Raidou’s response is as expected: he’s never once thought she was trouble, and he relies on her too, so he thanks her in return.

It’s easily the swetest and most romantic things have ever gotten between these two. So many anime couples have trouble communicating, but these two are crystal clear in how they feel about one another, and aren’t even embarrassed to walk about arm-in-arm or to share such a long hug.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 04 – Veritably Cordial

Raidou and Aharen’s closeness finally catches the attention of their poetry and prose teacher, Toubaru-sensei (Hana-Kana). But while at first glance they look like they’re flirting, upon subsequent glances she becomes entranced by their idyllic innocence as they gain her “veritable esteem”. Basically, they’re such good kids, the teacher gets a nosebleed.

When Raidou is a little slower than he’d want to be in handing Aharen a bottle of water when she’s choking on food, he decides that both of them need to be more expressive. While sharing a number of activities meant to elicit strong emotional responses means they’re growing closer as a couple, their faces remain veritable Noh masks to all but each other.

The pair transition from practicing more expressive faces to engaging in rap battles as the result of an inspirational trip to the CD store (something that I’m amazed is a thing that still exists in this age of Spotify and iTunes). Aharen is a natural, but Raidou needs to practice (which he does back at home, bemusing his sister and mom).

Raidou’s sister feels bad about being too harsh about his rapping, so gives her brother a fidget spinner as an apology. At school Aharen is oddly drawn to the device, and as soon as it’s in her tiny hand it barely stops spinning. She pulls of one slick trick after another, to the point Raidou worries she’s become addicted…only or Aharen to hand it back to him once she’s “spun it enough”.

The final segment involves Raidou and Aharen trying to relax in a park, but come afoul of a bunch of kids, including three boys who call her “King Aha” due to her spinner tricks. The girl of the group is worried about Aharen “seducing” her childhood friend, so challenges her to a Reversi duel. Raidou plays her first and loses completely, while Aharen simply lets her win. When the boys pick on the girl, she gets them to apologize.

After all that very non-relaxing excitement, Aharen looks very wan and hollowed-out by exhaustion. Luckily for her, her family dog Nui, a big Golden Retriever, doesn’t mind Aharen riding him home. It occurs to Raidou that the kids might’ve been on to something calling her “King”…she looks far more regal riding her dog than she has any right to be!

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 03 – Our Weird Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 02 – XYZ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 01 (First Impressions) – Lean on Me

In the best tradition of any number of [Character Name] is [Character Trait] comes Aharen-san is Indecipherable, with a bone-simple premise and extremely solid execution throughout. Our protagonists Raidou and Aharen are trying to start fresh in their first year in high school, and end up complementing each other perfectly by remaining who they are.

In Raidou’s case, he’s one of those “scary resting face” guys who is hard to approach, and who thinks he’s smiling when he’s not. Aharen, he learns, has trouble gauging the proper distance and intensity of social interaction. She’s either too distant (literally and/or figuratively) or waaay too close than is socially acceptable. She also speaks with an extremely tiny voice (expertly provided by Minase Inori).

After a couple of two-ships-passing-in-the-night incidents, the two eventually connect; Aharen is her usual too-close self, but Raidou doesn’t mind because he wanted to make friends and has done so. And while he notes in his inner monologue when Aharen is way too close or clingy, he’s never embarrassed or over-the-top. Everything is handled super chill fashion.

Aharen and Raidou are so immediately likeable and adorable, it’s not hard to get swept up in their everyday school lives and not particularly care about anyone else in the class, as the episode doesn’t either. They’re both kind, decent, generous people, whether it’s plushies won in a crane game or Aharen sharing half of her enormous bento…or getting up extra-early to make him a lunch all his own when his mom is on a business trip.

There’s plenty of physical comedy to be wrung out of the pair, whether its their extreme size difference or the myriad ways Aharen fits onto his lap, tucked into his shoulder, or clinging to his leg. This gets taken to an extreme when she nods off in his lap and ends up head-over-heels. This is at the very end, which marks the first time the episode focuses on a third character—in this case, a jealous redheaded girl.

My Winter 2022 trio of Takagi-san 3, Dress-Up Darling, and Akebi’s Salior Uniform was outstanding, and are a hard act to follow. But Aharen-san is just the sweet and charming slice-of-life comedy I was ready to miss when those three shows ended. Looks like the cozy good times are going to keep rolling into the Spring.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fabiniku – 09 – Royal Rebel

After saving Tachibana and Jinguuji from the pool party, royal intelligence officer Maria gives them a tour of the palace before an audience with the king. When Jinguuji is rightly suspicious about how well-timed Maria’s arrival was and how quickly an audience was arranged, Shen emerges from beneath the floor, having alerted Maria to the presence of the Hero.

The king and his advisors, while dressed only in loincloths, give Tachibana a warm greeting befitting a hero. The king himself belts out the prophecy they’ve been after since arriving in the capital, and it turns out to sound a lot like a gyaru wrote it in the age of TikTok. However, they translated it to mean someone like Tachibana would one day arrive to defeat the Demon Lord.

Our pair are given all the resources at the kingdom’s disposal, which Tachibana chalks up to her Charm effect working on the king and his advisors in a subtle but powerful way. At a formal ball to celebrate her arrival, Tachibana’s dress causes Jinguuji to imagine them marrying and growing old together.

Tachibana is then banished from the ballroom. She wants to drink and be merry, but when she insists, Jinguuji goes so far as to grab her by the arm and give her a serious scolding for acting so recklessly. While Tachibana does have a penchant for getting into trouble, I do think he’s being too harsh on her here.

She runs off, and encounters a beautiful young woman sitting at a window. When this woman prepares to jump outsaid window, Tachibana has to stop her, and does so by asking for advice. While Tachibana tries to put things as unromantically as she can, the woman sees right through the word-mincing.

She can tell Tachibana is depressed that “the gentleman” she’s thinking of won’t look her way or praise her. As Tachibana goes on both inside and outside her head, the woman concludes that Tachibana must love him very much. This is spot-on, though that love isn’t as necessarily romantic in nature as the woman must suspect.

In any case, Tachibana’s talk with her leads her to cancelling her suicide for the time being. She introduces herself as Yugrain, the first princess of the kingdom. She then stops by as Tachibana and Jinguuji are having a meal to anounce her intention to accompany them on their quest.

Yugrain and Jinguuji develop as instant a disdain for each other as she and Tachibana developed a rapport. The two verbally spar, but Jinguuji doesn’t want another hanger-on, and is willing to leave it to her father the king to “smoothly, efficiently crush” her heart.

Sure enough, Yugrain storms off in an adolescent rage in response to her father forbidding her from going. Tachibana follows her, and pointedly tells Jinguuji not to follow her. She gets Yugrain to cheer up by saying that she’ll do anything she can to turn that frown upside down. In Yugrain’s case, that’s starting a rebellion in her own kingdom to spite her baka dad.

The king’s council debates how to handle this rebellion, and when the king rules out any military action, everyone turns to Maria to handle the princess carefully and quietly. Alas, she fails and is captured by the rebels off-camera.

All the while Jinguuji goes over Tachibana’s words to him—don’t follow me—as he sits stoically on a balcony, wondering what she wants him to do. Maybe don’t be so dang cold to her all the time and not shit all over her new friend!

Vanitas no Carte – 20 – Juste Comme Vous Etes

This week is mostly an epilogue to the now-concluded Gévaudan arc, with both Vanitas’ and Jeanne’s associates dealing with the sudden reality that the two are now madly in love with each other. But because Noé is a big pretty dummy, he assumes something awful has happened to Vanitas, like a curse.

Vanitas’ half of the episode plays out much like one of my favorite bits from Kaguya-sama: Love is War (as reviewed by Zane) in which Kaguya is utterly convinced she has holes in her heart causing plain old lovesickness; her brain unable to comprehend what the heck her heart is even doing.

When a panciked Noé lists Vanita’s familiar symptoms, Orlok and his attendants throw them both out of his office without explanation—why bother explaining if these two are so dense they can’t see what’s blindingly obvious?

Vanitas runs off to contemplate things on a bridge, wallowing the whole time in unceasing affection for Jeanne. When a man walks past, explaining to his lover the very same symptoms Vanitas has, he still doesn’t quite get it, and runs of in a huff.

While running he happens to trip on a man sitting outside a café, who happens to be Roland, who invites him for a cup of joe and introduces him to Olivier. Desperate for advice, Vanitas asks Roland if he has any romantic experience; Roland says the guy he wants is Olivier, whom women love and men want to be. The two off-duty Chasseurs humor Vanitas by accepting that he’s talking about “a friend of his.”

This “friend” is experiencing this unyielding aching in “their” heart, preventing them from sleeping or thinking straight. But Vanitas is so out of sorts he dispenses with the “my friend” thing altogether. When Roland suggests that from what he’s heard, the woman feels the same way for him, Vanitas believes that to be ridiculous…why would anyone love him?

Meanwhile, back at Oriflamme Castle, Jeanne gives her report to Master Luca, hastening to add she left Gévaudan without learning where Chloé was bound, in case she were questioned later. She also reports that she now knows the sort of person Vanitas is, and how she can’t get him out of her mind. Just as she shines for him, he shines for her, the revulsion totally gone.

Luca can’t believe what he’s hearing, and is also quite a young man inexperienced in such matters, so he drags the blushing Jeanne to Domi, who is just aghast by this heretofore unseen version of Jeanne. Domi can understand her falling for her Noé…but Vanitas? She and Luca take her to the garden to discuss things “rationally”, but the more Jeanne speaks on the matter, the more it’s absolutely clear she loves Vanitas.

She even makes it quite clear she might not be able to stop herself from pouncing on him and consummating their love the moment she sees him again. While older than Luca, this passion is far beyond Domi’s tender slow-burn romance with Noé. Domi, true to her upbringing, says letter-writing is the first step to courtship, but Vanitas and Jeanne have already gone further than that.

Jeanne is also taking after her mother, and the way she kept pushing her dad down until he was hers, like a lioness bringing down a wildebeest. As shocked as Domi is, she is glad to see this side of Jeanne; a Jeanne that doesn’t need to be protected; who got back up after being trodden upon by her past. But her thoughts also go to a darker place without warning…more on that later.

That night, Noé joins Vanitas on the rooftop watching Paris glimmer and sulking. He tells Vanitas that Orlok’s attendants reported a new string of vampire attacks in the city that might spell a new curse-bearer on the loose. Alas, Vanitas is still in no emotional state to think about the next “case study”.

That said, Noé feels he has to say something, and that this time is the right time to say it: back in Gévaudan he met someone (Astolfo) who hated vampires with all his heart. He believes here but by the grace of God—or “the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings—goes Vanitas. He’s just glad Vanitas wasn’t the vampire-hating Chasseur he had to face down in that forest. He likes Vanitas “just the way he is”. And if Vanitas can be liked, he can be loved…and is, by Jeanne!

As for that weird moment when Domi got fixated on Noé in her thoughts, well…looks like she’s the culprit in the nighttime attacks. But it isn’t by her will: she’s being controlled by a young-looking cheerful curse-bearer with short white hair. This person is frustrated that Domi has not brought them Noé, and so is moving on to Plan B: using Domi as bait. Looks like we have our setup for the remaining episodes of the cour.

While the Gévaudan arc was a nifty and action-packed piece of time and reality-bending drama, I’ve been on record as saying I’m just as happy (if not moreso) by looser episodes like this where everyone is simply hanging around. Vanitas’ obliviousness and the reactions of the people he and Jeanne interact with make for great comedy. Of course, as the last moments show, the fun could only last so long…

Fabiniku – 08 – Night Pool

Jinguuji makes Tachibana make her first kill—a rabbit so they can eat—but it’s not just the two of them on their journey to the capital. They’ve picked up a hanger-on, Shen, who claims to simply want some company as they’re headed in the same direction. But Jinguuji suspects treachery afoot.

Sure enough, Shen drugged Jinguuji’s rabbit stew, making it hard for him to move. When Tachibana emerges from the apartment after a call of nature, she finds two strapping lads shirtless and ready for a donnybrook. Jinguuji insists Tachibana flee and he’ll figure it out, but to their surprise, Shen isn’t interested in Tachibana at all, nor does he find her cute in the slightest.

Tachibana, who believes her “only identity” in this world is her cuteness, is rarin’ for a fight, but as she bickers with Shen Jinguuji only grows more immobile, at which point Shen moves in for the…well, not kill, but back massage. Turns out Jinguuji was seriously fatigued and Shen just wanted to work on him. Of course, that doesn’t justify drugging people (in Tachibana’s case, with laxative!)

After Jinguuji and Tachibana institute a ten-meter rule with Shen, they arrive at Ishurna, the royal capital. After a brief tour and a bite to eat, they head to the supposed location of the prophecy they’re after: the Temple of the Goddess of Love and Beauty. When a fully-clothed, angelic priestess greets them, Jinguuji is extremely thrown off, having expected some kind of “night pool party”.

But once the priestess lures them in and asks them to change into extremely skimpy swimwear, they learn she herself is sporting a purple slingshot bikini under her robes, and takes them to the main area of worship—the very pool party/bacchanalian of Jinguuji’s imagination! It’s here where the priestess, who let the two wear their clothes, insists that they take if off and show the goddess what they’ve got.

When the priestess does reveal Tachibana in her microbikini, she also notices the seal on her neck, and everyone at the pool immediately loses their chill and starts talking about whippings and prison islands. That’s when Jinguuji takes some heat off Tachibana by tearing into their “crappy goddess”, then plowing through their feeble attacks.

He seems ready to give the slingshot priestess one of Brock Lesnar’s F5s when a well-dressed redhead busts into the temple and issues a “royal command”: the two weirdoes were summoned by the goddess and are not to be harmed! Could this woman be an oasis of sanity in a night pool of chaos, or simply guide our couple from one crazy scene to another, different but equally crazy scene?

Attack on Titan – 83 – Putting Together a Team

Levi is lucky his companion in the woods is Hange, who is able to stiches him up and keeps his wounds clean. The two are in the dark until Eren’s message to all Eldians. Hange thinks the only option is to run, but even in his awful state, that’s not how Levi flies, so the two make contact with Magath and Pieck and propose an alliance.

We catch glimpses of Jean, Mikasa, and Annie at night trying to sleep through the din of the Rumbling, while Armin and Gabi ride through the night, trying to catch up to Connie in time to save Falco. Little did I know everyone in this little sequence would not only eventually reunite, but also have a plan involving Magath, Pieck, Hange and Levi. But first, Armin has to stop Connie from doing something he’ll regret.

Connie’s lie about “brushing the titan’s teeth” is not that convincing even to a dummy like Falco, but Armin and Gabi make it there in time, and Connie gets Armin to stand down by essentially forcing him to save him from his mother’s jaws. Almost losing Armin—and almost subjecting her mom to becoming the Colossal Titan—snaps Connie out of his crazed plan, as does realizing his mom would not have wanted him to kill a friend anda kid to save her.

After a downer of a scene where Mikasa gets her scarf back from her would-be protégé Louise (who is dying of shrapnel) and another scene of Floch going full Fascist, Armin, Connie, Gabi and Falco stop in town for some much-needed food and just happen to sit at the same bench where Annie is scarfing down her first food in four years. Sure, it’s convenient, but I’ll totally allow it, as well as Connie’s not-so-nice ribbing. These guys once trained together as kids, so after all that’s happened it’s nice to be reminded they still are kids.

Back at the ruins of the fort, Floch, who believes Jean has chosen a side, prepares to execute Yelena and Onyankopon. The former has no final words, but Floch wants Jean to prove his loyalty by killing Onyankopon first, and Onyankopon, who was dealt a terrible hand in all this, has a lot to say. The camera cuts away as Jean shoots once, twice, four times, all of the shots missing…on purpose. He pushes Floch away as the Cart Titan pounces, swallowing Jean, Onyankopon and Yelena.

The four shots were a signal to “continue the plan”, meaning Armin, Mikasa, and Connie had a plan, working with Magath, Pieck, Hange and Levi. Armin and Mikasa leave the city driving wagons packed with supplies, with Connie, Annie, Gabi, and Falco all along for the ride. Annie notices someone watching them leaving, something that will most likely come up later. But it’s just thrilling watching all these characters I like teaming up.

Pieck stops by a stream to regurgitate Jean, Onyankopon, and Yelena, the latter of whom was saved because she’s part of Hange and Levi’s deal with Magath and Pieck. Jean explains to Onyankopon that he just couldn’t plug his ears and remain a part of Floch’s xenophobic Jaegerist regime. Like Connie, he held on to his pride as a soldier.

In his cabin hideout, a recovering Reiner is kicked awake by Annie, someone he probably never expected to see alive again. He’s even more confused by the odd combination of people around him: Mikasa, Connie, Armin, Annie, Gabi, and Falco. He asks what’s going on, and he gets an answer: they’ve assembled a team…to save the world. Despite the magnitude of the difficulty of their goal considering the Rumbling is already underway, in that moment, I believed them.

This is the first episode of this cour of Titan that was actually fun to watch more often than not. Turns out there are a few good guys (or the closest thing to it) in this world, who never asked Eren to destroy the world for them, and are committed to stopping the slaughter or die trying. This episode was thrilling (and at times pretty damn funny) enough that I’m content to wait for the next episodes to explain exactly how they’re going to do that.

Fabiniku – 07 – A God This Delicious

When Tachibana ends up a captive of the squid worshippers, such is the Premier’s vanity that she commits herself entirely to a beauty contest between her and Tachibana regardless of the fact the winner will be sacrificed to a giant squid. Even so, she loses to Tachibana.

Jinguuji and a village trader (who develops a thing for him) soon find and free the Premier, and they discuss strategy over her first hot meal in days (she’s been through some shit). The Premier agrees to work with Jinguuji to kill the Giant Squid God and save Tachibana.

Alas, any admiration or affection she might’ve been developing for Jinguuji is dashed when he uses her as literal floating bait for the squid, whom we learn is very particular about the girls he eats. After a whole day, the squid finally takes the bait at dusk. All the while, Jinguuji has noticed his strength has been sapped of late.

As Tachibana is carried in a cage litter for the seaside sacrifice, she curses the fact she and Jinguuji chose now to have another big fight. She remembers the first one, when she (or rather he at the time) fell behind in his studies and got mad at Jinguuji for not being an easy tutor.

The “useless eggplant” moniker was born, and the two friends didn’t speak for days. However, present-day Tachibana isn’t about to die before she can make up with Jinguuji, so she busts out of the cage and manages to wrest loose her tiara, thus instantly charming the men holding her captive.

This plan backfires when the wives and lovers of those men threaten to kill Tachibana before the squid can. Jinguuji tries in vain to pull the giant squid out of the water with his diminished strength, but regains that strength and then some when he hears Tachibana give an honest and heartfelt rant to the villagers about not judging people by appearances and taking responsibility for themselves.

Jinguuji rips the giant squid out of the water and impales its head on the statue of itself where Tachibana is clinging to dear life. Wounded but still alive, the squid notices Tachibana and attempts to eat her, and the Premier, soaked in black ink, almost helps by pulling Tachibana in.

But then Jinguuji tosses her his trusty Damascus steel kitchen knife, and the Premier, who you thought could sink no lower, pulls what in Demon Slayer parlance could be called a “Sleeping Zenitsu”, which is to say that for a brief moment she does something incredibly impressive and cool—in this case lopping off the squid’s tentacles and rescuing Tachibana in style.

The timing couldn’t be better, because up until this point the Premier had been little more than a walking joke and punching bag. Here, she plays a crucial role in ensuring Tachibana is safe…and goes a step further by grilling the village’s god and having a feast. Her actions are so audacious, the villagers agree to give up their power struggle make her their new leader.

Naturally the Premier isn’t interested, and as she runs from the villagers, Jinguuji and Tachibana make up. It’s not surprising that Tachibana even forgot she was mad at him, considering how much happened to her over the course of a day.

The episode ends with them basically exchanging vows: Jinguuji is to never take his eyes off Tachibana, while Tachibana is to never leave him again. Unfortunately, the Demon Lords generals have now learned that Jinguuji’s power is diminished when he and Tachibana are separated. Their vows will be more important than ever as they draw closer to the capital.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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