HenSuki – 11 – A Matter of Math

This week’s HenSuki is a pool episode, but the pool trip is only a means with which Keiki intends to expose and confront Cinderella once and for all. And hey, if he gets to see the girls in swimsuits, including one he brought for Mizuha (since the trip is a total surprise for her), that’s just a bonus as far as he’s concerned.

Sayuki and Yuika, whom he’s ruled out as the culprit, get up to their usual antics in fighting over him, while Mao keeps her tsundere schtick going when she gets him to herself. Amidst all the liveliness Mizuha is somewhat shuffled to the side, but Keiki tracks her down and carries her when she gets a cramp, like he used to do when they were both smaller (and about the same size).

When Koharu enlists the girls to participate in a girl confession competition with the audience as the judge, all four girls score 92 or higher, with Mizuha breaking the equipment with her very heartfelt confession of love for her brother.

All of these clues involving Mizuha add up to the revelation in the waiting area that she is Cinderella. Keiki arranged things so that she wouldn’t have a change of underwear except the pair that accompanied the love letter, which she reclaimed and kept in her bag at all times. Koharu’s photo also proves she was where Cinderella would have to be at the time the love letter was planet.

Mizuha accepts that she’s been caught, and appreciates that Keiki went so far to find out it was her, as it meant he had to obsess over her for the duration. That’s because she really is in love with him, and it’s not sibling love. When Keiki tells her he’s flattered but he’s not okay with a brother and sister having romantic feelings, she drops a bombshell: they’re not related by blood.

While it’s still somewhat dubious Keiki would be okay with suddenly regarding a girl he’d always treated like a sister (by blood or not) romantically, I’m more shocked that after all these years he never considered it odd that the two of them were only five months apart in age. Seems like a pretty big oversight!

With the central mystery solved and just one episode to go, Keiki has a choice to make: accept Mizuha’s feelings and adjust their relationship accordingly, or reject her and either choose one of the others or choose nobody. Decision time!

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How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 09 – A Panoply of Pecs

In an episode that’s not only mad with muscles, but exceedingly bountiful with fourth wall-breaking, a back muscle workout by Machio is interrupted when his pectorals suddenly start twitching, sensing the “muscle pressure” of a potential adversary.

Turns out, it’s Machio’s massive bodybuilding mentor from America, Barnold Shorsinator, who looks and sounds a lot like a similar action hero from Austria whose name cannot be said lest Dumbbells incur the wrath of The Lawyers!

Hibiki and Ayaka know him well from the movies; the other three…not so much. As for why Barnold hasn’t so much as texted Machio since the latter left America, well, there’s a harmless explanation for that: he dropped his phone in the water and lost his number! Similarly, Machio accidentally crushed his phone containing Barnold’s number. Truly an estrangement borne from momentarily clumsiness and scarily strong hands.

It is hand strength that brings Barnold to Machio’s gym, as he presents his former pupil with a hand grip with a resistance he estimates only a hundred men could successfully squeeze. Naturally, Machio breaks the damn thing with minimal effort, passing Barnold’s test. He’s holding a huge international bodybuilding competition tomorrow (short notice!), and wants Machio front and center.

The ladies attend the extravaganza of musculature, with Barnold leading them to a VIP suite and providing instructive commentary on how competitive bodybuilding is split into different areas, the basic poses like Side Chest, and the way the muscles and their owners are scored.

The girls are not only smitten with the frankly insane amount of glistening beef on display, but surprised and educated by the amount of complexity and nuance inherent in a bodybuilding competition. The crowd feedback plays a big role too, especially during the exciting “pose down” segment.

But once Machio takes the stage, the competition is over; he is regarded by crowd and co-competitors alike as a god among men, his muscles emanating waves that figuratively tear the clothes off of every man, woman and child in the audience, including Hibiki, Akemi, Ayaka, Satomi and Gina. They then look down and realize their clothes weren’t really ripped off, but it sure felt that way!

So Machio claims victory, but he notices that the competition wasn’t quite as outstanding as less-informed observers might’ve thought. Thus, he passes Barnold’s second test: this competition was just the first round; there’s to be another, more intense competition in Las Vegas. Unfortunately for Barnold, Machio is too devoted to his work and his clients to cancel all the appointments necessary to make the event…so that’s that.

Except it isn’t…not quite. Barnold leaves Japan, but leaves behind his personal secretary, whose name sounds like Jason Statham, but he’s not quite Jason Staham, if you catch my drift. Hibiki’s sudden anger at Jason trying to make “hustle that muscle!” happen is a fitting capper to a perfectly absurd and thoroughly fun outing of Dumbbell.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 08 – Where Legends are Made

This week, with the cultural festival as the backdrop, every O Maiden decides they’re going to make a choice that will hopefully ensure them happiness and stability as they move forward.  Naturally, things don’t start out smoothly for anyone.

For Kazusa, it’s deciding to tell Izumi upfront how she feels. As her performance with Niina looms, Kazusa is mindul, and nervous, of the fact that Izumi is about to witness her essentially rehearse her confession to him with Niina on stage.

Momo decides she’s not going to entertain Sugimoto’s vapid attention any longer, something she’s even more sure of when he shows up with two of his friends. When Rika sees another girl flirting with Amagi, she starts to realize they can’t have relationship if she insists on keeping it secret from the world.

Then there’s Niina. She seems the most lost out of everyone, caught between feelings for Saegusa and Izumi, but neither sure what those feelings are or how to act on them. For his part, Izumi is taken aback when she puts her hand on his face, leading to her scurrying off while he struggles to hold three teapots—which I’m sure is a metaphor for something.

Hongou finds her encounters with Milo-sensei almost completely dominated by the presence of the modern Japanese teacher Tomita-sensei, who has clearly taken a liking to Milo. Tomita doesn’t see Hongou as a threat, she sees her as a child and a student, and there’s clearly the sense Milo appreciates having Tomita around, almost as a shield from Hongou’s potential mischief. But any discomfort he has comes out of his refusal thus far to set clear boundaries, a responsibility that’s his and his alone.

While wallowing in the rest area, Rika is joined by Sonoe, and the two get to talking about the latter’s boyfriend. Sonoe, who it should be said is clearly ready to move on from bullying Rika to a conventional friendship between hotties, tells Rika how her thing with her boyfriend was physical at first, but became romantic when she learned he was a nice guy. Also, that it’s only natural to want to show off and be proud of the person they like. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Izumi in the audience would be awkward enough, but Saegusa also joins the crowd, sitting right beside Izumi. Suddenly, it’s a rehearsal for Niina as well as Kazusa, in which to somehow prove to Saegusa that she’s not boring, that despite having become a woman, she can still be unpredictable like a child.

When nobody expects it, and just when Kazusa is starting to get into rhythm with Izumi less of a source of stress and more of a calming presence, Niina flips the script, walks out into the crowd, and puts her hand on Izumi’s chest, shocking everyone there (and no one more than Kazusa), but eliciting an impressed smirk from Saegusa.

Izumi takes Niina by the wrist to talk in private, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as they hoot and applaud what looks to all the world like two lovers shuffling off to be alone. In the moment, it looks like a heel turn for Niina (if you’re an KaZumi shipper, like me).

Izumi is surprised when Niina tells him even she didn’t really know what she was doing, he surmises that it may have been to make Saegusa jealous, and that if she still wants to do that kind of stuff because she still likes Saegusa, he’s willing to help her. The key is, she should focus on what she wants, not how others will see it. A tall task for someone all but defined by observers. But the one thing Izumi can’t see is the real reason Niina reached out to him: she likes him.

As for Kazusa, she also considered the fact that it may be game over for her and Izumi before she even took her shot, but she’s determined to take that shot anyway. Seeing how Niina looked when she touched Izumi clinched it for her: for someone who clearly likes him that much to still support Kazusa, who only ever thought about herself…that’s the person she’d want to be with Izumi, rather than some rando.

Everything comes to a head at the bonfire that concludes the festival. Due to the buzz caused by the performances—no doubt supercharged by Niina’s improvisation—the whole school is aware of the urban legend about standing in the shadow of the one you love, and people are trying it out.

It’s the first time Hongou’s work has reached an audience so large, and the pride in her accomplishment fuels her confidence in wanting to try it out on Milo-sensei. Unfortunately she doesn’t come close to getting a chance; Milo is well away from the bonfire’s flames, chatting with Tomita-sensei.

Rika fares better. Turns out Amagi wasn’t as close to giving up on them as it seemed last week, but Rika goes for broke and confesses to him in front of everyone, telling him she can now see the difference between romance and sexual desire, but more to the point, she doesn’t care anymore about anything other than Amagi knowing she’s in love with him. He responds by hugging her, telling her he’s never been so happy.

Momo was successful in getting Sugimoto to take a hike, but that leaves her alone at the bonfire when everyone else is busy with their respective love interests. Still, you get the feeling she’d rather be alone than have those annoying dudes buzzing around her, so it’s a win for her.

Niina tells Saegusa that she’s decided to let herself “obsess” over someone for the first time, and see where it goes, after a lifetime of keeping her distance. She’s pretty much asserting she has to look out for herself, even if it hurts Kazusa and ends up fruitless, as Izumi just doesn’t see her that way, and has—has always had—someone closer to him.

That brings us to Izumi, who beats Kazusa to the punch and and confesses to her first, moving her to tears of joy and relief. He references that day years ago when he first saw her as a girl, and after all those years of her protecting him, he decided he wanted to protect her too. Big sister, little sister, good friend…she’s been all of those things to him, but now he knows all of those characterizations are reflections of the love he’s always had for her.

The two walk to the riverfront hand-in-hand to admire the cityscape, at peace and happy as clams. So many weights have been lifted on this night, but the smooth sailing will only last so long with four episodes left. Storms lie ahead, and the strength of all of the night’s confessions and rejections place will be vigorously tested. I’m fist-pumpingly happy for Kazusa and Rika, but love and pain do go hand in hand!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 07 – You Mustn’t Become Boring

At the inn where he was extorted by Hitoha to take the Lit Club, Yamagishi-sensei is perfectly content to spend the evening with his folks, until he’s confronted by Hitoha in a particularly frisky mood. Forget her literary ambitions, she just wants to get with Milo-sensei, period. But thank goodness, he says four words that start to restore my faith in him: “Will you please stop?”

Sure, he’s pretty mean when he laughs at her inability to handle an imminent (but ultimately aborted) kiss when she was talking big about letting him lift her up by her thong and toss her to the floor. And when he tells her not to “bite off more than you can chew.” Hitoha may consider herself “a wretched sight,” but the alternative—if Milo-sensei had given in—would have been far, far worse.

As Momo withdraws from the baths, she can’t get the image of a totally naked and uninhibited Niina out of her mind, eliminating any doubt that she has a crush on her. Not only that, when Sugimoto RINEs her with a number of in-your-face stamps enthusiastically inquiring about how she’s doing, Momo almost seems resentful—how dare you, vapid boy, try to occupy headspace I’d rather have occupied by the fair Miss Sugawara?

Just before Momo returns to the bedroom, Rika is also exchanging innocuous texts with a boy—Amagi—the difference being Rika is loving every moment of it. Still, not so much that she’d let Momo know, as she rushes back to the brainstorming table. Momo muses that the idea of guys being simple and shallow is “an urban legend in itself,” and wonders why girls are supposed to couple with them instead of what she deems to be simpler girls she finds cuter.

Rika initially believes the two of them are far apart when it comes to how they feel, but in reality, they both liken how they feel to the bittersweet taste of a dark chocolate Pocky. They’re both interrupted by a rejected and thoroughly pissed-off Hitoha, who barges in with an urban legend about sweethearts wearing matching thongs…not knowing that might actually work for someone like Momo!

While the nature of the distance may vary, the love interests of all five girls are far away. Niina and Kazusa are unique in that they likely share the same love interest. It’s Niina who is there when Kazusa comes out of her overheated state, which is really for the best, as Niina gets to instigate the fight they really need to have in order to move forward, either as friends or something else.

The other three interrupt the fight, in part deeming it unfair due to Kazusa’s heat-fatigued state, but the five come up with a solution that serves everyone: a lively, no-holds-barred pillow fight. It’s a wonderful, semi-cathartic release, and thankfully Yamagishi-sensei has precisely no part in it whatsoever, keeping a distance and letting these girls in their savage season have it out with one another in an aggressive (fight) yet gentle (pillows) way.

The night Kazusa returns, she has dinner with Izumi’s family, but Izumi himself isn’t present. In another beautiful sequence, the two end up encountering one another from the windows of their respective bedrooms—a cliche to be sure, but an effective one in this case, especially as both had just been thinking of one another; specifically the fact they like one another.

Having learned a lot from her trip and gained quite a bit of confidence and courage, Kazusa draws on what she and only she knows—that Izumi is particularly into retro trains—and tosses him one in the form of a keychain. Izumi first thought of Kazusa as a girl when he could throw a baseball further than her. But this time, both the keychain and her feelings make it to him. It’s a small step, but definitely one in the right direction.

Back at school, Kazusa makes sure to apologize to Niina for being presumptuous about her stealing Izumi, but does so under the impression Niina has no interest in Izumi, which is actually just another presumption on her part! Ironically, Kazusa takes another confident step in volunteering to be the role of the girl to Niina’s boy in the lit club’s cultural festival performance.

As Momo adjusts Niina’s costume and blushes at the sight of her nape, and Rika continues to flush her relationship with Amagi down the toilet, Kazusa continues to reiterate in her head how she loves Izumi, and has always loved and treasured him back when she was his big-sister figure. But while Kazusa has probably never been more at peace, that peace is built on shaky ground.

As Kazusa confides to Niina that she’s just about ready to confess her feelings to Izumi, Niina is not quite ready to concede Izumi to her so easily, though she might ultimately do so out of respect for their friendship. Where she goes wrong is seeking advice from her middle-aged pedophile former acting coach Saegusa, whom she visits just as he’s calling his latest prized talent “boring”…apparently for being so obedient.

Saegusa doesn’t want to witness obedience, on the stage or off it; he wants to see rapture; the explosive moment when a girl spreads her wings and takes off, transforming into a woman, even if that woman holds no interest for him beyond the “final moment” of transition.

With that in mind, and considering his loyalties lie nowhere else, he urges Niina not to be boring like his young student, but rather to damn the torpedoes. It’s a heartbreaking scene, not least because it’s quite likely Niina will do whatever her old mentor says, no matter how much it might hurt her and/or Kazusa.

But like Momo’s near-total disinterest in boys, Rika’s near-total inability to be the girlfriend Amagi wants, Hitoha’s near-total commitment to pursuing a forbidden affair, and Kazusa’s near-total confidence in her love for Izumi, Sugawara Niina is beholden to the road paved by the sum total of her life experiences thus far.

As much as she might want to, she has yet to escape Saegusa’s influence, and can no more turn off that road than Momo can start liking boys. And so, it seems a war with Izumi is inevitable—and no longer the kind with mere pillows.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 06 – Getting a Grip

When will Nishikata learn that no amount of training will prepare him for the mind games Takagi plays on him? Not this week, as he revives their gym challenge (which he also lost last year). The thing is, even though he sucks at toe touches and fails the grip test due to imagining he’s holding her hand, Takagi still technically loses. She just gets him to admit defeat before she tells him he has a higher score. Better luck next year, I guess!

With Nishikata’s after-school committee work done and the class camping trip looming, Takagi picks up on his desire to leave school together (even though he doesn’t want it to look like he wants to, she reads his mind) and they practice one-on-one dodgeball. Again, Nishikata’s proficiency with dodging does him no good, as Takagi first tricks him by making him turn his back, then gets into the weeds about whether he’ll dodge or catch, causing him to ask, again and again, “We’re talking about dodgeball, right?”

When the three girls stop at a sweets shop after work for some snacks, a black-and-white cat inexplicably swipes a piece of candy Mina just gave to Yukari after her stomach growled, and the girls give enthusiastic chase through various obstacles. The athletic Sanae is the only one able to keep up, but when she finds the cat giving the snack to three adorable kittens, she gives up and tells the others she lost track of her. Clearly, the mama cat needed it more than Yukari!

Takagi and Nishikata end up at the same sweets shop, where Takagi proceeds to buy the opposite of everything Nishikata picks out, so that they can exchange with each other later. After the dodgeball Nishikata is also hungry, so he buys a cup of noodles to eat in-store, and Takagi does the same. This marks the first time just the two of them are out to eat, which Takagi observes makes it a date—inducing a hot ramen spit take from Nishikata.

He’s confident he can deny to anyone who sees them that they are on a date (i.e. intentionally spending time and sharing a meal together one-on-one), but when his two nerdy friends enter the shop, they slink in, make their purchases, and slink out without saying a word, as if no denial from Nishikata would even matter. They know what they saw!

With that, Takagi expresses her excitement about the coming camping trip, implying it will be yet another new setting for new forms of teasing (i.e. flirting). Kudos to Takagi for finding new ways to expand their interactions despite his outward reluctance, as well as to Nishikata for inwardly admitting it probably was a date they were having then and there.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 06 – Solo Sumo

The cultural festival committee, wanting to boost outside attendance this year, come to the lit club requesting they come up with a romantic urban legend. Little do they know how sensitive a subject romance is for all five of the girls, for very different reasons. And yet, just when the other four are ready for a vehement refusal from Rika, she quietly agrees to take the job.

Hitoha, meanwhile, feels like she’s in a sumo match all by herself, as she’s walking around in a cold, uncomfortable black thong, part of another example of her dangerous “indirect play” with Milo-sensei. It’s all about the fact she’s wearing it, he knows she’s wearing it, and she know he knows she’s wearing it, but he doesn’t seem that excited.

Instead, when the pretty (and age-appropriate) Tomita-sensei shows up, he leaves with her, and while flirting lets loose an important nugget Hitoha will use later. I still hold out hope Milo, the adult, will stop this before things go too far.

There’s a different match going on between Niina and Kazusa, and Momo is ill-equipped to referee. The problem is, the Niina and Kazusa girl are playing with different sets of rules. When Niina tells Kazusa to imagine how she’d want her love story with Izumi to start, Kazusa brings up how beautiful Niina is and how she lacks the same confidence over her looks.

When Niina presses, saying Kazusa is cute and in any case a relationship isn’t all about looking perfect, Kazusa flees. Momo tells Niina that she should clear it up with Kazusa that there’s nothing going on with Izumi, but Niina would rather exercise some “tough love.” For one thing, if there’s nothing to spur Kazusa or Izumi on, they’ll remain in limbo forever. Not to mention Niina is (rightfully!) mad at one of her supposed best friends Kazusa for assuming what so many others have—that she’s out to “steal their man.”

Rika, the one lit club member who has “won” her match and now has a boyfriend, has no idea what to do next. Amagi is eager to sing out their relationship from the rooftops, but she’d rather find a way to hide it in a forest. She wants to ask Amagi for a little more time to do so, but going public seems like something very important to him. This couple will need to learn to find a middle ground, lest it wither like an unpicked fruit on the vine.

Bereft of good ideas, Hitoha suggests a club field trip to an inn…the inn run by Milo-sensei’s family which she heard about while he was flirting with Tomita-sensei. Hitoha has since been given the run-around by her “editor,” saying erotica is no good and purer “young love” pieces are what’s hot now (the girl who published erotica ahead of her didn’t fare so well). Hitoha now finds herself perfectly positioned to draw from her own life for this new literary direction. She promises Milo she’ll thank him “with her body.”

The change of scenery doesn’t do much to get the creative juices flowing, particularly for Kazusa due to an incident on the train when Niina mentioned she had tea with Izumi. While Niina hoped being aggressive would spur Kazusa to action, it’s having an unexpected effect of making Kazusa retreat ever further into her burrow of self-loathing.

A break for baths is called when in the brainstorming session Kazusa suggests an urban legend about blowing up the school so you can be with the one you love in heaven forever. Dark. Shit. But even in the baths, Kazusa can’t escape her worsening inferiority complex, as Niina walks in without even trying to cover herself, showing off a body against which Kazusa doesn’t think she has any chance.

Niina is right to think neither Kazusa or Izumi will come out of their shells without external action. She’s also right to be hurt by Kazusa assuming she’s trying to steal Izumi, as well as the fact she believes Niina is the better choice because of her looks. But the difficulty level is way too high, and by episode’s end Kazusa has literally burned out in the bath. Whether Niina takes it down a notch for Kazusa’s sake depends on whether she honestly has zero interest in Izumi—the jury’s still out on that.

As for Momo, she’s mostly caught in between other conflicts this week. While there’s not much additional evidence this week to support viewers’ growing opinion that she’s into girls—and has a crush on Niina in particular—I would definitely welcome further exploration of that development. For now, she’s trying her best to keep the peace, because Niina vs. Kazusa could get ugly, fast.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 06 – Russian to Conclusions

Movie buff Hibiki wants a new home theater system. The only problem is, due in part to her gym fees, she lacks the funds to buy one. Enter the Silverman Gym Arm Wrestling Tournament, which has both men’s and women’s divisions and a grand prize of 100,000 yen for each.

Machio explains the proper setup and form for official arm wrestling, then matches Hibiki up with Ayaka to give it a go. As with boxing, Hibiki reveals she’s a superhuman beast, dispatching Ayaka with ease (and turning the proceedings into a battle manga, with requisite intense faces). Even Machio has to get a bit serious to beat Hibiki.

With Akemi sick and neither Ayaka or Satomi interested in participating, the women’s division’s first round is also the final round, because there are only two combatants! Hibiki, and the short silver-haired foreign lass who up until now we’d only seen the OP and ED: the Russian Nina Void (voiced by Touyama Nao).

Nina is a seasoned veteran in the arm wrestling world, and Russia is a power in that particular sport. She’s also never been beaten by someone her own age, so it’s a huge shock when Hibiki defeats her almost as quickly as she beat Ayaka. It also changes Nina’s plans dramatically: instead of heading back home (which she needed the prize money to do), she decides to enroll at Hibiki’s school as a transfer student.

After going over the three main stereotypes of Russian anime characters (Intellectual with Icy Smile, Emotionless/Cold-Blooded, and Zealous Patriot Type), voicing her desire not to stray too far from any of them, and declaring her love for her dear shirtless bear-wrestling leader Putin, Nina explains how she’s never done that much weight training with equipment.

Instead, she’s a strong proponent of “kipping”, i.e. rhythmic pull-ups and chin-ups that use your momentum. Proper form and consistency mean that the more you kip, the more your nerves know what to do and when in martial arts like sambo. 

Hibiki demonstrates that she’s terrible at kipping, but Nina (wrongly) assumes her rival is simply holding her cards close. Speaking of close, it isn’t until after Hibiki returns home from the gym that she learns that Nina is going to be living with her for the foreseeable future. There will be no escape from the rivalry that has been thrust upon her.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 05 – Relay Chase, Sauna Race

Summer is over, and with the Fall comes Sports Day, a day Hibiki has been dreading. Worse still, students are appointed for events based on lottery, not skill, so she finds herself the anchor of the final event: the 400m relay.

Hibiki is not a skilled runner (nor is Satomi), but Machio has pointers for them both: leg curls work the hamstrings (the “accelerator” muscles) without working the quads (the “brake” muscles).

Leg curls also tone your bottom, which fires Hibiki up; she may have missed the chance to have a hot summer bod but she’d still working towards a hot winter bod. Unfortunately, her overzealouness leads to her pants splitting.

When the day of the relay arrives, Hibiki finds herself competing directly against Akemi, who doesn’t know that Hibiki has been secretly working her lesser-known iliopsoas muscles located in the back, crucial for sprinting. Akemi may be cleaning up for her Class A team, but Hibiki aims to make a race of it.

Unfortunately, the baton transfer fails and Hibiki ends up way behind, but still rallies to finish second behind Akemi, impressing both of them. It’s just too bad her second-place finish is wiped out by the fact the runner who dropped the baton didn’t pick it up, leading to her disqualification.

The loss really eats at Hibiki, but she finds an opportunity to exact her revenge when after a day of training, the four girls decide to hit the sauna after the showers and have a little competition: whoever lasts longest in the sauna will get all of the four raffle tickets Machio gave them (the show makes sure to warn viewers not to try this at home).

Ayaka is the first to hit her limit and leave, followed, rather surprisingly, by Akemi. Hibiki is flagging, but Satomi looks cool as a cucumber…until Hibiki realizes she’s so burnt out she’s basically stuck in place. That makes Hibiki the winner! Too bad she doesn’t win a trip to America with her tickets, but four T-shirts she doesn’t really want, and gives to Akemi anyway. So ends another entertaining and informative Dumbbells.

P.S. This show is also super strong with the twisted reactions, critical asides, and of course, fourth-wall breaks:

…Though characters seem to have stopped commenting on the eroticism inherent in Machio’s training lessons. Like Machio himself, I guess they just got used to them!

Carole & Tuesday – 12 – Setting the Stage to Stardom

As a dejected Carole tells Gus and Roddy what just happened, Tuesday is briefly scolded by her mother upon returning to her mansion. Her mom couldn’t give to shits about her beyond how her actions reflect on her, and she basically says as much before locking her daughter in her room for a week.

You’d think for a politician worried about the scandal of a runaway daughter, subjecting that daughter to solitary confinement might not be the best look! Anyway, what follows is an effective montage of the two girls suddenly ripped apart becoming more and more morose. They are both The Loneliest Girl all over again.

Gus, who had a similar falling-out with a loved one that in hindsight he believes he could have salvaged, offers some sage advice to Carole about not letting things fester too long without making amends. Carole, eating her feelings in the form of a double Whopper, is way ahead of him: She needs Tues, and she thinks Tues needs her. Gus agrees, which means it’s time to plan the rescue mission—which, yes, may technically involve kidnapping!

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s only non-robot visitor is Spencer, who is as supportive as Gus about getting the duo back together, and letting his sister pursue her dreams. He reveals to her he saw her in the club, and while he admits he never thought his sis was capable of running away to the big city or getting into music, he can relate (having once pursued music but gave up, likely under pressure from mom).

I like Spencer. He’s a good brother! He didn’t give in to their domineering mother when it mattered most. Mom’s too self-involved and distracted by politics and toy boys to realize her hold on him is not as strong as she thinks. And while he couldn’t make it, he can tell she’s got what it takes, and so will do everything to free her from her gilded prison.

That night—the night before the finals, as Carole, Gus, Roddy take the train to Tuesday’s district—Angela is at the Artience Lab with Tao, asking him why the AI lyrics seem to be almost reading her mind. His answer is that, well, the lab itself has been reading her mind all along, as well as her body. It’s been listening and watching and writing, and perhaps even drawn out words from her subconscious she’d never be able to draw out alone.

In this regard, Angela is not a solo act, despite appearing alone on stage. Tao is her collaborator, since he’s the one who developed the AI. After getting into singing to please Dahlia, she can’t sing the final song to her Mama, so she asks Tao to indulge her and look at her and only her throughout the performance.

Tao agrees, but only this once. Like Carole and Tuesday, there’s nothing overtly or explicitly romantic in play here, but it’s also not like there’s nothing there.

The next morning, the rescue attempt, in which Spencer aids Carole, Gus and Roddy without even knowing it by unlocing her door and holding back a security robot so she can run away in her very inappropriate-for-running fancy shoes. They also catch a bit of luck when a driver in a car that’s faster than the cops recognizes them and offers them a ride to the station.

Gus and Roddy are arrested, but the mission is complete: Carole & Tuesday are on their way to their destiny. On the train, Carole apologizes to Tues for the things she said, and the two make it clear to each other that they want nothing more than to by each other’s side. Carole also finally manages to give Tues her birthday gift: a shiny acoustic guitar pin.

When the two return to Alba City, the grandeur of the first episode in which Tuesday arrives for the first time returns, only now she’s not alone and unknown, but running hand-in-hand with her new bestie as the throngs of people recognize and cheer them on. The only problem is, they’re very late; the season finale of Mars Brightest has already started, and as promised, Tao is in the back of the hall, his gaze locked on Angela.

Angie takes that gaze and runs with it, turning in another lovely performance. The vocals are good, but as usual I’m just not that impressed with the lyrics. She sings two identical verses without any change, which makes me wonder, are they that deep and sophisticated as to make Angela believe the AI was reading her mind? I don’t know, but as usual I have to grade on a curve and for this show, it’s a damn good song, well performed.

The judges agree, and are ready to crown Angela a winner until the sudden belated appearance of Carole & Tuesday. Catherine whips out the rulebook and states that any performers not present at the start of the show will be disqualified. Despite this, Carole, Tuesday, Benito, the crowd, and even Angela all compel her to allow them to perform anyway.

Since they had no time to write or practice a new song, they go with their very first song, Loneliest Girl, the song that marked the beginning of their friendship, the end of their loneliness, made them a viral sensation (thanks to Roddy) and put them on the road to musical greatness.

While we’ve heard the song a few times throughout the series, it’s never been performed so powerfully as this time, and with both this and Angela’s finals performance, Mars Brightest finally sounds and feels like a genuine reality TV competition, breaking through the walls of mere imitation.

That’s carried forward with the deliberation of the judges afterwards. Even DJ Ertegun is moved to tears! Catherine initially holds her “rules are rules” ground, but allows an exception that satisfies everyone from the crowd, to Angela (who wanted a fair-and-square fight) to Gus and Roddy (still stuck in jail): Angela is the official winner, but both acts will be permitted to make their pro debuts.

They earned it, and Angela is cordial in congratulating them. She, Carole and Tuesday have come a long way, and many challenges remain. Will their continued chilly rivalry curdle into outright hostility? Will Cybelle break out of prison and finish what she started? Will Tues’ mom take harsher measures, despite the blowback from the duo’s growing legion of fans? We’ll find out in the second half of the series. I’ll be on board!

Isekai Quartet – 12 (Fin) – Not Too Bad At All

Class A agrees to fight the three teachers (Rerugen backed out, not wanting anything to do with the other three) while Ainz, Tanya, Subaru and Kazuma must deal with Destroyer. It’s a great realization of the potential of putting these four together, and an appropriate way to end the first of at least two seasons of this super-deformed super-crossover.

Tanya’s shield gives Ainz time to cast Effulgent Beryl, pushing the spider back, and he then summons an entire army of chibi undead soldiers, many of whom flock around a very uncomfortable Aqua as Emilia smiles cheerfully, happy everyone’s getting along.

Ainz leaves the rest to Tanya, who flies Subie and Kaz up into the air. Subaru volunteers to fall first, cleverly using his Return by Death to attract a column of undead that serve as a shield against Destroyer’s beam. Kazuma then jumps, casting “steal”, which actually works for once, only not on underwear, but on a bolt holding one of the spider’s legs.

Finally, Tanya swoops in and grabs Destroyer’s purple headband, earning them the victory and 100 million points…but pointedly not the reward of returning to their respective other worlds! Turns out Roswaal’s “maybe” meant just that…”maybe.”

That said, the class is in agreement that this new world and school life aren’t that bad. It’s a good attitude to have considering they’re in store for at least twelve more episodes there, with a fresh batch of “transfer students.” Will the likes of Clementine, Mary Sioux, Priscilla, and Wiz be among them? We shall see, next season.

Carole & Tuesday – 11 – Plucked from the Jaws of Success

Tuesday’s hand is badly burned, and once bandaged, she cannot play the guitar. As the MC delays by appealing to the boundless ego of Ertegun, Gus tries to find the culprit with the security cams, with no success. We know that it was Cybelle, but everyone in the show has to play catch up, which leads to more interpersonal problems.

What I didn’t know? Whether Cybelle was sicced on Tuesday by either Katie or Dahlia, whether it was egging on her anger or giving her access to the dressing room. When Katie mentions who has motive, Angela suspects her mama. but Dahlia seems too proud for that kind of trickery. Katie has been very shifty the last couple episodes, and her “dumb assistant” act seems almost too practiced.

Whent C&T take the stage, the judges immediately note Tues’ injury and lack of a guitar. Carole passes it off nicely by saying they’e going to show they’re more of a guitar-and-piano duo; which isn’t really lying, since they may well want or have to branch out without either of those instruments at some point.

Carole is also asked about being a refugee and her family. She’s not sure what she’d say if her parents were watching, just “I’m here.” There’s not much of a crowd reaction to her background, so they move on with the song. It’s…fine, again. No ear bleeding thankfully, but the lyrics are reliably trite, sparse, and poorly structured. We see Cybelle is still somewhere in the building, watching on.

Ertegun starts the judge’s review by stating that someone who gets injured just before a performance has no business being a musician, and as harsh as he sounds, he’s not wrong. If Tuesday wants to make the big time, she’s got to learn how to protect herself, speak up, say no, and be a better judge of character. Unable to do all of the above led directly to her burns.

That said, the other judges loved them, and the woman who was introduced as the Simon Cowell of the trio states that the duo “stole her heart.” All the Insta followers in the world can’t keep Pyotr from losing this one, but like GGK he’s a good sport about it, happy he gained even more followers and has a bright future.

The final, then, is set: Carole & Tuesday vs. Angela. This leads Gus, absent any hard evidence, to accuse Dahlia of sabotaging Tuesday, just as Angela initially did. But when the culprit is described as “a slender young woman”, Angela’s suspicions shift immediately to Katie, and she reams her out for doubting her ability.

Katie, who we previously see smelling Angela’s lipstick, is either a very good actor, or legitimately devastated by her favorite artist’s accusations. Thankfully, the cops find Cybelle while she’s trying to flee, all thanks, incidentally, to Roddy spotting her in one of Pyotr’s many video posts. During her perp walk, Cybelle blows up at Tuesday, telling her she got what she deserved.

Like Ertegun, Cybelle isn’t the most tactful here, but she’s right. Though even a firm rejection at the start may have caused Cybelle to go after her, leading someone like her on was playing with fire…or in this, case dry ice. Carole tells her as much outside the hospital, where Tues was told she could play again in a week.

Carole doesn’t hold back in telling Tuesday she needs to not only learn how to handle people better, but also seemed unfocused in their performance, and that perhaps her commitment is less serious because she has a big fancy home to go to if this doesn’t pan out. It’s definitely the most distant these two have been for a while.

But things could always be worse…and they become worse almost immediately after Carole’s shots are fired, as burly goons sent by Tuesday’s family roll up and roughly toss her into the car. Carole gets punched when she tries to interfere, and when she manages to jump onto the fleeing car, the driver switches to manual mode and she’s thrown from it, though she suffers no serious injuries due to good rolling form.

Still, just like that, the duo has been severed, moments after cracks started to form due to their deeply different backgrounds. The timing is horrifically cruel, almost as if it was meant to be. But as we’ve seen, Tuesday is, like a young princess out in the world, not quite equipped to survive in it, and her injured hand was clear for all the millions of viewers to see.

A lot of those viewers are voters, so it behooves Tuesday’s pragmatic mom to put her house in order. I smell a rescue mission in the works.

Isekai Quartet – 11 – Let’s Get Nuts!

Field Day starts orderly enough, with members of Class 2 and Class 1 exchanging pleasantries, and Yunyun, apparently from “Class 3” challenging Megumin to a battle (turns out she’s the only member of Class 3).

From there, a series of contests from tug-of-war to…donut grabbing(?), to the cavalry battle. The latter is worth 100 million points, rendering all the previous exercises and their somewhat random pointless.

Then the teachers join in, with Roswaal, Vanir, Pandora’s Actor, and a reluctant Rerugen wondering what he’s doing with these weirdos. Classes 1 and 2 decide to join forces to beat back the faculty, who then deploy their trump card, the Mobile Fortress Destroyer from KonoSuba.

While the show should be lauded for bringing in so many more familiar faces, it’s odd that Class 1 is only around half the size of Class 2 (though “Class 3” is a good joke), and for an episode with so much activity, there’s precious little action, which is to say…animation, only the suggestion of it through panning montages.

Carole & Tuesday – 10 – Out of Whack

It’s the semifinals, which means bringing in a new guest judge to replace the AI dog, and it’s none other than DJ Ertegun, whose troubled history with Carole & Tuesday should have precluded him from judging at all, but I guess Mars Brightest doesn’t do much research!

One thing’s for certain: in a a tough competition where personalities can clash and tempers can flare, MB has appallingly bad security. Consider Cybelle, a stalker Tuesday never should have had to interact with again after she lost in the quarterfinals.

And yet here she is, in the green room, getting in Tues’ face and intimidating her with her unpredictable, capable-of-anything, nothing-to-lose vibe. Then Tuesday simply runs after Cybelle…and Carole lets her! So I ask: where the fuck is security???

When GGK dishes out more cosmic prattle and then performs a competently-produced song with like seven words in the repetitive lyrics, Tao finally pays Angela a visit to tell her they’re changing her song at the last minute.

GGK impresses the judges—who it should be said are easily impressed—and Gus and Dahlia continue their juvenile little competition with poor Roddy in the middle acting as a conduit for their barbs. I’m just not getting much out of the friction between these two.

Once again, Angela delivers the best song of the episode, though that’s not a high bar to clear, with a genuinely catchy pop number that honestly wouldn’t be out of place on a Top 40 radio station. The only strange thing is how it ends: the vocals and music just…stop. On a dime. Seems more like an AI production bug than a feature.

Meanwhile, instead of preparing for her performance with Carole, Tuesday has her priorities all out of order, running around the studio like a headless chicken looking for a Cybelle who is clearly not there anymore and furthermore, doesn’t want to be found. Carole wants to give Tuesday a present, but every time one of them shows up in one spot, the other has just left.

Angela ends up beating GGK, and heads to the showers afterwards, leading to a very suspicious scene of Katie Kimura dropping her smile and staring at the phone Angela left on a table. Is there more to Katie than hyper syncophant? God I hope so, because Angela’s path to becoming a pop star has seemed way too easy so far.

As Pyotr performs another mostly meh pop performance, Tuesday returns to the green room to find a present on the table…but not Carole’s present. The chaotic scrawl wishing her a Happy Birthday suggests it’s from Cybele, who must have doubled back after Tues followed her.

As for the contents of that present? My guess is dry ice, judging from the white smoke cloud that surrounds Tuesday as she clutches her hand in pain when Carole enters. Since Tuesday needs that hand to play guitar, a dry ice burn is going to be a big problem.

But all this could have been avoided with someany backstage security procedures. Cybelle’s revenge, if that’s what this is, only happened because the show decided that Mars Brightest is not a professional company of long standing capable of protecting one of the four contestants who were whittled down from a quarter of a million. That seems awfully implausible, but here we are. Better break out the aloe!